“You thought you’d always be, on a magazine,
But it’s not so easy.”
---------------------- VELCRO STARS
Clearing it up
“Win anyway” was something Ray Tanner always said. It was around during his first season and he said it many times before it really took off, in that injury-bedecked season of 2011 that still ended with a national championship. That’s when it grew to encompass all of South Carolina baseball, the attitude, hoarded talent and tradition that the Gamecocks have.
The problem is that it grew into a monster, a fanged garnet apparition that will hover over the team for years. If one edition doesn’t do as well as that 2011 team – or at least gets to the College World Series – many will bark, whine, curse and demand change because “win anyway” isn’t being represented.
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This is where we all find ourselves when USC’s season ended very short of expectations, and those are expectations by the coaches and players, not just the fans. Reading message boards and answering Tweets since Maryland finished a 10-1 pummeling on Sunday would make you think that Chad Holbrook came over to a lot of houses last night and spray-painted “CH WUZ HERE” on people’s doors.
Nobody’s arguing that the Gamecocks fell short of expectations. This was a team that looked Omaha-bound at midseason, and the veteran players on it knew they could get there. Despite injuries and a chronic case of no-batter, USC still could have won its NCAA Regional and challenged Virginia for a CWS berth. Home-field advantage alone should have dictated that.
But they didn’t, and it wasn’t because of a coaching decision or because they suddenly forgot how to play. It was because “win anyway” met baseball, which has forever been and forever will be a cycle.
The Gamecocks never could find a solution to their hitting woes, which got worse and worse as the season progressed. When Max Schrock and Connor Bright were lost for chunks of the year, Holbrook tried everything he could to find an answer, but the only answer was that those guys needed to be in the lineup. Even when they returned, the Gamecocks had been so used to playing without them that they struggled to remember what they did before those two left the everyday rotation.
Those plays that always went USC’s way in that magical run from 2010-12 didn’t come with as much abundance anymore. In fact, they seemed to go the other way. Joey Pankake has had his share of clutch hits over his career, but his double-play ball in the ninth ended the first game against Maryland, and his throwing error earlier in the game plated two runs. USC lost by one run.
It wasn’t any kind of case where players weren’t trying hard enough, or Holbrook wasn’t coaching them correctly. It was simply that nothing in baseball remains consistent. Ever. It’s a sport where failing seven out of every 10 times at the plate will still get you in the Hall of Fame. The Gamecocks had led a charmed life ever since Michael Roth turned from a left-handed one-out reliever into the best starting pitcher in the country, and baseball finally caught up.
It’s fine to be angry, fine to be disappointed. The Gamecocks and Holbrook feel the same way. Holbrook even mentioned that the team had a good season (and it was good – 44 wins should never be scoffed at) but at USC, good wasn’t good enough. He said that because he knows the tradition here, and the expectations. Pressure is looking out his office window every day and seeing signs for two national championships that he didn’t win.
But USC lost because it didn’t play well, or play well enough to beat a Maryland team that was playing with nothing to lose. Not because they don’t care. Not because they’re not as good as those other teams. Not because Holbrook isn’t Tanner.
Tradition is strong and an excellent factor to have, but tradition can’t hit an outside curve or suddenly force a pitcher to forget to cover first base. Baseball does that.
And while USC did it and did it better than anybody from 2010-12, baseball is never as simple as “win anyway.”
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