Surely, no South Carolina fan believes he or she could step into Will Muschamp’s headset on a Saturday afternoon in Williams-Brice Stadium and steer the Gamecocks through a college football game without disaster ensuing. Just like no reasonable person thinks they could take Frank Martin’s or Dawn Staley’s place on the sideline and orchestrate all the moving parts of a college basketball game with no being the wiser.
But, deep in the hearts of many Gamecocks baseball fans certainly lurks the idea that they could step into the dugout and guide South Carolina through nine innings at least as well as the guy who’s doing it now, and that’s a problem for Chad Holbrook.
It’s not his biggest problem. It’s not along the lines of the fact that ace Clarke Schmidt is done for the season due to an arm injury. Or that his closer, the usually formidable Tyler Johnson, looked hittable Sunday. Or that his team just dropped its fifth straight SEC series.
Still, it’s a problem. Holbrook’s job status has to be the hottest topic in the stands at Founders Park, and you know it was particularly hot as the Gamecocks were losing 19-1 to Kentucky on Friday night. Everyone thinks they can take his spot on the top step of that dugout and do just as good a job, if not better.
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Holbrook estimates that he makes thousands of decisions every game day.
“Literally,” he said. “Pitches, plays, where to put guys on defense.”
For a weekend game he’s at the park two hours before the team’s pregame meal, which is four hours before first pitch. On a weekday game, “it’s a 16-hour day.”
“Thousands of decisions go into a game day,” he said.
And, right now, not enough of them are working out. The Gamecocks (25-17, 10-11 SEC) were ranked in the nation’s top five in preseason polls but have fallen all the way out of the rankings. They have almost no hope of hosting an NCAA Regional and could even miss the national postseason entirely.
Still, Holbrook believes in what he is doing.
“I have the ultimate belief in myself as a coach,” he told The State. “I have been lucky enough, I know not as a head coach, but I’ve been lucky enough to be in five national championship series, and I believe in what we do here. All you can do is try to help your players the best you can, and we try to do that every single day. We’re struggling right now, but that’s not going to take away from what I believe in myself and what I believe this program is all about.”
Not only does Holbrook believe in himself, but he still believes in his team.
“I feel great about their confidence and where their mental state is,” he said after Sunday’s 9-4 loss to the Wildcats. “I love their attitude. I have no doubt we will play some really, really good baseball these last 13 games. I have no doubt that we will play great baseball.”
It’s hard to figure out why he believes that. South Carolina seems almost momentum averse. The Gamecocks had plenty of potential rallying points in Sunday’s game – a career first home run by senior Ross Grosvenor, two put-outs at home plate, a strikeout, caught-stealing double play – but never could turn any of those sparks into a blaze. Still, Holbrook believes.
“I think the kids have great character and they come to the park the right way every day,” he said. “That’s all I can ask them to do. Our kids have high character. I have no doubt they will perform. I just believe in my heart that something good is going to happen to this group. We have had some heartbreaking losses from time to time, and we’ve had some tough ones, but I just feel like they are going to keep putting themselves in position to win and something is going to go our way.”
Shortstop Madison Stokes described his team’s confidence as “getting there.”
“We’re playing as hard as we can,” he said. “I am excited to see what we can do because I firmly believe that opposition is the sign of something great coming, but it’s tough. As long as we do our job to the best of our ability, the result will turn out just fine, whether that’s now or later.”
It needs to be now if South Carolina is going to turn around its season.