Bouknight, Smoak bookend All-Decade Baseball team

Ten NCAA tournaments and three trips to Omaha highlight USC's winningest run

nwhite@thestate.comJanuary 11, 2010 

  • USC Baseball All-Decade Team

    FIRST TEAM

    CATCHER

    Landon Powell (2001-04)

    The starting backstop on three CWS teams, Powell, an All-American in 2004, batted .306 with 44 home runs and 193 RBIs in his career.

    FIRST BASE

    Justin Smoak (2006-08)

    The two-time All-America switch-hitter started all 195 games of his three-year career and batted .330 with a school-record 62 home runs and 207 RBIs.

    SECOND BASE

    Kevin Melillo (2002-04)

    A sparkplug up the middle on three CWS teams, Melillo batted .302 with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs.

    SHORTSTOP

    Drew Meyer (2000-02)

    The smooth three-year starter, who earned All-America honors in 2002, batted .330 with 24 home runs and 126 RBIs and stole 72 bases.

    THIRD BASE

    Brian Buscher (2002-03)

    An All-American in 2003, the two-time CWS participant had a glove as strong as his bat, which produced a .356 average, 29 home runs and 130 RBIs in two seasons.

    OUTFIELD

    Michael Campbell (2003-06)

    An All-SEC pick in 2006, the four-year standout set career marks for games played (255) and at-bats (950) and finished second all-time in hits (299). Batted .315 with 31 homers and 175 RBIs.

    Marcus McBeth (1999-2001)

    A great defensive center fielder with a strong arm, he became a pitcher in the major leagues. Had 26 homers and 99 RBIs in 2000-01.

    Whit Merrifield (2008-09)

    A two-year starter entering his current junior season, Merrifield, an All-SEC defensive player, has batted .333 with 14 home runs, 75 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.

    DESIGNATED HITTER

    Phil Disher (2005-08)

    The two-time All-SEC pick slugged his way into the lineup as a sophomore, finishing his career with a .297 average, 42 home runs and 128 RBIs.

    UTILITY

    Justin Harris (2002-03)

    Showed his versatility by starting in center for the 2002 CWS team and at shortstop for the 2003 CWS team. Batted .324 with nine home runs, 68 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.

    STARTING PITCHERS

    Kip Bouknight (1998-2001)

    The 2000 Golden Spikes Award winner with a 17-1 record in 2000 was the ultimate competitor. The righty added 10 wins and two saves in 2001 while becoming the program's all-time wins leader with 45.

    David Marchbanks (2001-03)

    Left-hander won All-America honors in 2003 with 15 wins. Finished career with a 31-8 mark and 3.67 ERA.

    Aaron Rawl (2002-05)

    Gritty right-hander piled up third-most wins in school history (35-15) as well as eight saves. He started the 2002 national championship game.

    RELIEVER

    Blake Taylor (2001-02)

    His 2002 breakthrough season produced All-America honors for the workhorse closer as well as six wins, 21 saves and a spot in Gamecock lore with postseason heroics.

    SECOND TEAM

    CATCHER

    Tim Whittaker (1998-2001)

    FIRST BASE

    Steve Pearce (2004-05)

    SECOND BASE

    Travis Jones (2007)

    SHORTSTOP

    Reese Havens (2006-08)

    THIRD BASE

    James Darnell (2006-08)

    OUTFIELD

    Steve Thomas (2000-02)

    Garris Gonce (2001-02)

    Jackie Bradley (2009)

    DH

    Trey Dyson (1999-2002)

    UTILITY

    Andrew Crisp (2006-09)

    STARTING PITCHERS

    Peter Bauer (1998-2000)

    Steven Bondurant (2000-03)

    Matt Campbell (2002-04)

    RELIEVER

    Scott Barber (1998-2000)

With the start of the college baseball practice three weeks away, USC coach Ray Tanner is clearly looking forward to the 2010 season with a strong team returning.

Coming off one of the program's most successful decades, he can afford to look back with pride on the 10 NCAA tournament teams he coached from 2000 to 2009.

"When you have to step back and take a look at the body of work and the whole picture, what stands out is the consistency of the teams and the program," Tanner said. "I'm really proud of that. It's a great tribute to these outstanding players and coaches."

The very best of those players - led by pitcher Kip Bouknight and first baseman Justin Smoak - comprise The State's All-Decade team for USC baseball.

Bouknight got the decade started by going 17-1 in 2000 and winning the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's most outstanding player. Smoak's slugging on the back end of the decade left him as the school's all-time leader in home runs (62) and RBIs (207) after three seasons.

Along with a lot of other standout players, they propelled the Gamecocks to a record of 468-201, the most wins in any decade in school history and the fourth-most in the nation over that period behind Florida State, Rice and Texas. The .700 winning percentage, however, ranks slightly behind the 1970s teams (325-133-3, .708) and the 1980s (412-173, .704).

Tanner's 2000 and 2002 teams won SEC regular-season titles, while his 2004 squad won the SEC tournament crown. USC's 179-120 regular-season record in conference games over the decade was the best in the SEC.

Of the 10 NCAA tournament teams, seven made it to Super Regionals and three made it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., with the 2002 team reaching the national championship game. The three CWS appearances matched the number set by the 1980s teams. Only four teams nationally had more Super Regional appearances in the decade.

"You'd always like to make more appearances in the College World Series, no doubt," Tanner said. "But we're in a program that's capable of winning a national championship. Is it easy to do? No, but we're at that level."

Tanner also acknowledged the coaching staffs. Four assistants from this decade have gone on to head coaching jobs: Jerry Meyers at Old Dominion; Jim Toman at Liberty; Monte Lee at College of Charleston; and Stuart Lake at Charleston Southern.

But it still comes down to the players, and USC's depth over the decade showed - especially in the infield and on the mound. From Landon Powell to the Killer B's to the triumvirate of Smoak-Havens-Darnell, Tanner saw his players succeed in the toughest conference in the nation.

During the 10-year span, 18 different players garnered All-America honors while 58 signed professional contracts. Enough stars came through the program that some top-caliber players could not crack the All-Decade teams at their respective positions, such as first baseman Yaron Peters, shortstop Steven Tolleson and reliever Chad Blackwell.

The final season of the decade also saw a move from the historic confines of Sarge Frye Field to the new $36-million stadium in the Vista. Tanner acknowledged the many great moments at the old field, but he also knows how much the new ballpark means to the continued success of the program.

"Leaving the Sarge was very hard for me. It was our comfort zone. It was a place where we were successful," he said. "But we were busting at the seams from a recruiting standpoint."

At the alumni game in the fall, Tanner told a gathering of players that it was their success that led to the construction of Carolina Stadium. Seeing them each year brings back the memories, too.

As for this top memory of the decade, he states there are too many to mention. But then he makes a point of bringing up the deciding game of the 2002 Super Regional against Miami at Sarge Frye Field. Trailing 4-1 entering the ninth inning, the Gamecocks scored five runs to pull out an improbable 6-4 victory which sent USC to the CWS for the first time in 17 years.

"That had to be one of the most special moments," said Tanner, who badly wanted to get the program back to Omaha after Super Regional near-misses in 2000 and 2001.

Entering his 14th season overall at USC, Tanner pondered the thought of making it to the end of this coming decade.

"If I didn't know that it's my 14th season, I wouldn't believe it. It's gone so fast," he said. "My job is one of the greatest in the country, maybe the greatest. I'd like to think that it (another great decade) is a possibility."

Reach White at (803) 771-8643.

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