As South Carolina opens its 2013 baseball season against Liberty at Carolina Stadium today, a buzz continues to surround the Gamecocks, who are coming off two national championships and a third consecutive College World Series finals appearance this past season.
Nine things to watch today and during the 2013 season.
1. NEW GUY IN CHARGE
Chad Holbrook takes over as Ray Tanner’s hand-picked successor, and he’s likely to continue the team’s winning ways. A successful assistant coach at North Carolina before coming to South Carolina, Holbrook has coached in the CWS six of the past seven seasons, three with UNC and three with USC.
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2. TANNER HONORED
USC is planning a special ceremony today for Tanner, who led the Gamecocks to 13 consecutive NCAA post-season appearances, the longest active streak among SEC teams, including six CWS appearances and two national titles. Tanner is now USC’s athletics director.
3. A NEW FIELD OF STARS
Michael Roth won’t be starting on Friday nights. Matt Price won’t come running out of the bullpen. And Christian Walker won’t provide the punch in the batting order. The former CWS heroes are gone to the pros. This team will have to find new heroes among its younger stars, such as sophomore pitcher Jordan Montgomery and sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner.
4. MORE PEOPLE IN THE SEATS
There’s nothing like a winner to attract fans. After averaging 7,574 fans last season in the ballpark with a capacity of 8,242, USC set a record this year for season tickets with a total of 5,835 sold.
5. MORE STOLEN BASES
After averaging a plodding 41 stolen bases the past seven seasons, Holbrook promises a more active running game built around center-fielder Tanner English. A base-stealer in his college playing days at UNC, Holbrook wants his team to put more pressure on opposing defenses.
6. LINGERING LEADERSHIP
Roth’s leadership also is gone. But six players remain from that first national championship team in the 2010 season: pitchers Nolan Belcher, Patrick Sullivan, Tyler Webb, Colby Holmes and Adam Westmoreland and first baseman Brison Celek. Belcher and Sullivan are two of this season’s team captains, along with first baseman LB Dantzler.
7. DIFFERENT BASE COACHES
Assistant coach Sammy Esposito is moving from the first-base coach’s box to the third-base coach’s box. Brian Buscher, the former USC All-American third baseman and major leaguer, is the new volunteer assistant and will coach first base.
8. MORE TV TIME
Don’t sweat it if you can’t make it to the ballpark because the Gamecocks’ success continues to earn them a large share of televised games. Of the 56 regular-season games, 21 will be shown on a variety of networks, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, CSS, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Carolinas and SportSouth.
9. SMART GUYS
Sure, fans can question the baseball IQ of the players if they make a base-running mistake or keep swinging at pitches in the dirt, but don’t question their book smarts. This team compiled a 3.201 GPA in the fall semester, the highest in the program’s history.