Chad Holbrook sat at the podium in disbelief following Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Texas A&M in which his team went 0-for-10 with runners on base and 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
This wasn’t a one-game issue where balls were hit right at defenders and the Gamecocks got unlucky. USC’s offense was in a rut that started the previous weekend at Kentucky when Carolina was shut out on Saturday, then went 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 in a 5-4 extra-inning loss on Sunday.
South Carolina had gone an almost impossible 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position from Saturday at Kentucky through the first two games against the Aggies.
During that stretch, you could sense the frustration in the dugout and in the stands grow with each missed opportunity. Holbrook had tried just about everything he could think of to help turn USC’s offense around, including extra work in the cages.
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“We’ve been hitting early BP every single day,” he said Saturday night. “Swung til their hands bleed, but it’s not what you do in practice. You’ve got to go up there and do it between the white lines when the chips are down. Right now, we’re struggling.”
Instead of taking extra swings or harping more on situational hitting prior to Sunday’s must-win game to stay in the SEC race, Holbrook opted to take a philosophical approach to try to fix USC’s struggling offense.
Before every season, he predicts an overall win total and SEC win total for his team and seals it in an envelope until after the season. For the first time in his career, he released those results to his ballclub with games still remaining.
“I wanted to tell them because they’ve exceeded my expectations… I just felt like they had so much pressure on them,” Holbrook said. “I think they’ve been walking around a little bit feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. I’m no psychologist by any stretch, but I just wanted to relieve the pressure that they felt. I don’t know if it worked or not, but I did my darndest.”
Because of the recent struggles, the feeling around the program was that USC was in the middle of another disastrous season like 2015 that saw Carolina miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
Even after four straight conference losses, South Carolina was still in the heart of the SEC race and a candidate for a national seed.
Holbrook wanted his team to look at the big picture and realize that it had already exceeded the expectations of many instead of focusing on the negatives.
“I was very concerned, because we had lost four games in a row in the league, and a couple of them were heartbreakers. I saw some looks in their faces (Saturday) night that I didn’t really like,” he said. “They listened too much to the outside noise. They felt too much pressure. They were looking around like, ‘Oh gosh. What do we do now?’ That’s not how baseball should be or can be played. You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to take a deep breath, relax and play.”
It’s impossible to tell how much Holbrook’s speech played a part in USC’s offensive outbreak on Sunday, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
The Gamecocks tied the most runs scored against Texas A&M all season, plating 10 against a pitching staff that entered the weekend third in the SEC with a 3.07 ERA.
USC went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position and 17-for-26 in advancement opportunities. Dom Thompson-Williams hit a pair of home runs, and the Gamecocks also manufactured a couple of runs with five sacrifice bunts, including two successful squeeze attempts.
It remains to be seen if Sunday’s 10-run effort is a preview of what is to come or merely an outlier as the Gamecocks continue to struggle down the stretch.
But if USC can continue to play without feeling pressure and get a few timely hits, this season has the potential to end in Omaha instead of ending in disappointment.
Dom by the numbers
A look at USC junior outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams:
6: Home runs, including two on Sunday against Texas A&M – his first multi-homer game.
5: Times he reached base against A&M, going 3-for-3 with two walks, three RBI and four runs scored.
.324: His batting (61-for-188), with with 14 doubles, three triples, 36 RBI and 43 runs scored.
18: Multi-hit games which leads USC and he is tied for second with 11 multi-RBI contests.
51: Games in a row he has started.