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Former Cherokee star playing Knoxville this weekend

By Goose Lindsay

When the University of South Carolina baseball team takes to the diamond at Lindsey Nelson Stadium Saturday to take on the Tennessee Volunteers, a lot of fans wearing orange and white in attendance might be cheering for the enemy as Gamecock pitcher Wil Crowe will be making a homecoming of sorts.
Crowe grew up in Kingston, playing middle school baseball at Cherokee. He moved to Pigeon Forge as an eighth-grader and played for the Tigers in high school before choosing to play collegiately for one of the nation’s best programs in Columbia.
“I’m really excited about it,” Crowe said. “It’s been a while since I played in that area. It’s going to be a good homecoming for me. It’s going to be great to see family, friends and people I know.”
Crowe’s high school career at Pigeon Forge is among the best in Tennessee history. His 2013 Tigers won the TSSAA Class AA State Championship, and Crowe was the winning pitcher in that game. He was also named the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year in Tennessee after the season.
Many were hoping Crowe would stay close to home and don the orange and white after high school, but he opted to play for the Gamecocks, who were coming off national championships in 2010 and 2011.
“The recruiting process is different for different people,” Crowe said. “At the time, I was just trying to trust my heart. I visited UT and other places, but it didn’t feel like home to me. Nobody did anything wrong. Coach (Dave) Serrano was great to me and my family, but it just wasn’t the place for me.
“When I visited Columbia, stepped on the field and saw their facilities, I was certain this was the place I wanted to stay.”
Crowe’s career in Columbia started great. He was named Freshman All-American in 2014 after posting an 8-3 record in 15 starts.
Crowe’s next two seasons, however, weren’t as memorable. In nine starts as a sophomore, he was only 3-4 with a 4.91 ERA. It was soon discovered that those un“Crowe”like numbers were attributed to a torn ligament in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery. The injury cost Crowe the remainder of the 2015 season and the entire 2016 season while rehabilitating his elbow.
“It was extremely difficult,” Crowe said. “It was pretty gruesome on my body, and I couldn’t help my teammates on the field. I was still part of the team, but I was on my schedule and not theirs. I had to sit in the stands and couldn’t go on road trips. It was no fun.”
Nearly two years have passed since his surgery, and Crowe, a redshirt junior, has rebounded stronger than ever. With a fastball ranging from 93-96 mph, he is 3-0 this season with a 2.25 ERA and has struck 31 batters in 24 innings for the eighth-ranked Gamecocks.
“I feel great; my arm gives me no trouble,” Crowe said. “I’m throwing harder now and my breaking ball is sharper. I’ve lost 30 pounds over the rehab, and I’m physically in the best shape I’ve ever been. I’m a better pitcher now than I was. I learned a lot while I wasn’t able to pitch.”
Crowe’s visit to Knoxville will be his first in four years as a Gamecock. South Carolina played at Tennessee in 2015, but it was after Crowe’s elbow injury. He is trying to treat this weekend’s visit as just another road trip, but he knows it’s a bit different.
“I’m going to think about it, especially after spending so much of my life there,” he said. “But I’ve got to treat it as just another game for me and my team. It’s the SEC opener for us and we’re going to try to win the series. I’ve got to go in, do my job and hopefully give us a chance to win.”
No matter what happens this weekend, Crowe will soon have another important decision in front of him as he weighs his option to either return to Columbia for his senior season or try to make it in Major League Baseball.
He was drafted in the 31st round of the 2013 draft by the Cleveland Indians, but he is expected to go much higher at this year’s draft in June. He entered the season as the No. 6 prospect for the draft from the SEC, according to Baseball America, and he’s rated the No. 17 junior overall by Perfect Game.
One thing that could persuade him to go pro is that he will graduate in May after being named to SEC Academic Honor Roll for his first three years on campus.
“I’m not worried about it now,” Crowe said. “The draft will come, but you never know what will happen. If it’s right financially for me and my family, then I will pursue my dream (of playing professionally), but if it’s best for me to stay here another year, I will.”