MINUTES EARLIER, Jim Tomans Liberty baseball team suffered elimination from the Columbia Regional when he was asked what makes South Carolina such a difficult team to beat in the postseason.
Toman has an interesting perspective on the USC program, having spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach in Columbia before becoming Libertys head coach for the past six seasons.
Toman talked about USCs outstanding coaches. He mentioned USCs sterling staff of pitchers, and a lineup full of quality hitters. He raved about USCs facilities and cooed over the Gamecocks fan support.
Toman sounded like he was talking about the New York Yankees. In fact, he was talking about a program that has become the Yankees of college baseball. USC has established itself in baseball like Duke and North Carolina in basketball and Alabama in football.
There exists an aura about the USC program, a feeling of superiority and invincibility, a quiet confidence that borders on cockiness. It permeates the program to the point that USC now believes it will win every time it steps on the field, particularly when the games begin to really count in the postseason and at Carolina Stadium.
Liberty second baseman Bryan Aanderud admitted after Mondays game that there was no shame in losing at USC because the Gamecocks are just about impossible to beat at home.
The numbers certainly bear that out. In addition to the ongoing 27-game home win streak in NCAA tournament play, USC is 47-2 all-time in NCAA regional play at home and 58-5 in NCAA tournament games at home.
Year in and year out, USC seems to play its best baseball in the postseason. Just like the Yankees and Duke basketball and Alabama football, no matter what transpires during the regular season, those teams turn more dangerous once the most meaningful games are played.
Chad Holbrook said it has to do with attitude.
Players believe theyre going to win. I dont know how you put a finger on that as a coach, Holbrook said. That foundation is laid and has been laid many years before.
You just feel like, things might go wrong, but still at the end of the day, were going to find a way. Theres a belief with your players that was so evident in the last three years, especially in 10 and 11, that no matter what happened, no matter where we went, we were going to win.
Eleven NCAA Super Regional appearances over the past 14 seasons established USCs standing among the nations elite programs. The national championships of 2010 and 2011 and runner-up finish in 2012 perched the Gamecocks atop the college baseball world as the envy of all others.
I tell our players every time they step on the field, youre not just representing yourself, youre representing a lot of great people that gave an awful lot of effort to this program that played here before you, Holbrook said. Dont let them down. This is a special, special program.
Holbrook got a first-hand look at how a program lives in that stratosphere during his 15 seasons as an assistant coach at North Carolina. His wife, Jennifer, worked as an administrative assistant to UNC basketball coach Roy Williams.
What struck Holbrook was how former UNC greats such as Michael Jordan and Vince Carter returned to campus during the offseason of their pro careers and mentored the current Tar Heel players. No matter the status of a former or current player, all were welcomed as being part of the UNC basketball family.
The current players then began to understand that the program extended beyond their team, that winning and capturing championships was a long-standing tradition that would continue beyond their years in the uniform.
When Holbrook arrived at USC in the summer of 2008 as an assistant coach he sensed that the same fraternity existed here in baseball. Former USC players in the professional ranks worked out with the team during the offseason and were a constant presence in the batting cages and weight room.
When Holbrook was elevated to the head-coaching position this past offseason, he said he was immediately embraced by former players. It did not matter that Holbrook coached so very few of them.
Then on Monday, when USC extended its postseason excellence by winning the regional and advancing to another Super Regional, Holbrook checked his cell phone as he was leaving the playing field.
About 25 text messages of congratulations already had arrived. He heard from a virtual all-star team of former USC greats, including Drew Meyer and Kip Bouknight and Justin Smoak and David Marchbanks and Garris Gonce and Trey Dyson and Kevin Melillo.
All were happy Holbrook and his team could continue the USC tradition of winning.