The Chad Holbrook era started, almost as if scripted, with a nail-biting game that ended in the win column.
South Carolina’s new baseball coach followed in the footsteps of esteemed predecessors Ray Tanner, June Raines and Bobby Richardson by guiding the Gamecocks to a 4-3 victory against Liberty on Friday afternoon before a sellout crowd at Carolina Stadium.
Holbrook noted that he’s the fourth USC coach since 1970, a period that spans the greatest success of any program in school history.
“I won a game here. That’s pretty cool. It’s certainly special,” said Holbrook, an assistant at North Carolina for 15 seasons before coming to Columbia as an assistant before the 2009 season. “I’ve been coaching for 19 years, and this is my 20th year, and it means a lot to win my first one.”
As Tanner was honored with the retirement of his No. 1 jersey in a pregame ceremony, Holbrook, who wears No. 2, showed that he’s ready to continue his mentor’s legacy. But he admitted that the ceremony going well was as important to him as winning the game.
“Personally, it was an emotional day. I don’t make any bones about that,” he said. “It wasn’t your normal, typical opening day for me.”
Sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery threw well, pitching six scoreless innings to get the win. He surrendered five hits and two walks while striking out five. Despite a leaky defense that committed three errors behind him, Montgomery, who went 6-1 last season with huge postseason wins against Clemson and Arkansas, responded by pitching out of trouble.
“He’s an unflappable kid,” Holbrook said. “You feel good about him out there when things are not going your way.”
New closer Tyler Webb, who replaced all-time saves leader Matt Price, got the final five outs to record the save. The senior left-hander pitched out of a tense eighth-inning jam.
“I just tried to go in there and throw strikes and focus more on executing the pitch than how big the situation is,” Webb said. “The experience over the years definitely helped with that, maybe in not getting too nervous.”
The Gamecocks jumped to their first lead of the season in the second inning when senior first baseman LB Dantzler drilled a solo homer. Dantzler, who was second on the team last season with 10 home runs, pulled a pitch over the right-field fence off Liberty starter Carson Herndon (0-1).
“It was definitely good to get the first hit,” Dantzler said. “We always talk about getting your first ground ball and your first hit under your belt so you can settle in. I was happy to get a home run my first at-bat.”
Dantzler, one of the team’s three captains, delivered again in the sixth inning with a sacrifice fly off Liberty reliever Jared Lyons to give USC a 2-0 lead. He was thrilled the team could make Holbrook a winner.
“It’s awesome to be a part of it. If he’s here another 10 or 15 years like Coach Tanner, we can always say we were a part of that first win that he got,” Dantzler said. “All of us love Coach Holbrook and we really wanted to get that win for him.”
Holbrook noted that players like Dantzler are why the program continues to have success.
“He’s one of our older guys. He’s mature. He put some good swings on the ball,” Holbrook said. “Obviously, he was an important factor in the outcome of the game.”
USC picked up a pair of insurance runs in the eighth to take a 4-0 lead. Freshman second baseman Max Schrock’s groundout plated one of the runs for the first RBI of his career.
The Gamecocks needed both of those runs when the Flames scored three runs off relievers Patrick Sullivan and Forrest Koumas in the eighth inning, with Ryan Cordell’s two-run double the big blow. Webb came on to get the final two outs of the inning and leave the tying run on third base. That summed up the day for Liberty, which stranded 14 runners.
Holbrook loved Webb’s poise.
“He throws strikes, he’s composed, and he’s got a good changeup and a good slider. He gives you a chance to win every time out there,” Holbrook said. “He’s a tough kid to beat. It was neat to see him flourish in that role because he’s going to have a lot of those.”
The teams play the second game of the series Saturday at 1:30 p.m. USC right-hander Colby Holmes will face Liberty right-hander Brooks Roy.
“We feel very fortunate to have won. We didn’t play particularly well. Liberty has a good team,” Holbrook said. “I tried to tell our guys that it’s going to be a dogfight and you’ve got to prepare for a one- or two-run game. We were fortunate enough to capitalize on a couple of their mistakes, and Jordan Montgomery pitched around some of our mistakes. Ultimately, that was the difference.”
Ray Tanner honored
Chad Holbrook postgame
|PAXTON, Nick rf||4||1||0||0||1||1||2||0||0|
|CORDELL, Ryan cf||5||0||2||2||0||0||2||0||2|
|AANDERUD, Bryan 2b||5||0||1||1||0||0||3||3||0|
|CLOSE, Alex 1b||3||0||0||0||2||2||5||0||1|
|GRAUER, Danny dh||3||0||0||0||2||1||0||0||2|
|SIZEMORE, Justin lf||3||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||3|
|TAORMINA, Sammy ph/3b||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||3|
|WIMMER, Trey c||4||1||2||0||1||0||7||1||0|
|BRITT, Dalton ss||5||0||2||0||0||1||2||3||0|
|SYPE, Dalton 3b||3||0||1||0||0||2||0||1||3|
|LACIK, Nick lf||0||1||0||0||1||0||1||0||0|
|HERNDON, Carson p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|LYONS, Jared p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|BANKEMPER, Patrick p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|GRAY, Robert p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|RICHARDSON, Josh p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tanner English cf||4||0||1||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Graham Saiko lf||2||1||0||0||2||0||0||0||0|
|Max Schrock 2b||4||0||0||1||0||0||1||2||0|
|Joey Pankake ss||4||0||1||0||0||1||3||3||2|
|LB Dantzler 1b||2||1||2||2||1||0||8||0||0|
|Grayson Greiner c||3||0||0||0||1||1||10||1||1|
|Erik Payne dh||2||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||3|
|Shon Carson pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Curt Britt ph||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|TJ Costen rf||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||0|
|Sean Sullivan rf||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1|
|Chase Vergason 3b||3||1||1||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Jordan Montgomery p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|Patrick Sullivan p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - LYONS, J.(1); Pankake(1); Costen(1); Vergason(1). DP - LIBERTY 1. LOB - LIBERTY 14; S. Carolina 7. 2B - CORDELL, R.(1). HR - Dantzler(1). HBP - Costen. SF - Dantzler(1). CS - English(1).
|HERNDON, Carson L,0-1||5.0||3||1||1||3||3||0||0||0||0||16||19||7||3||72|
|Jordan Montgomery W,1-0||6.0||5||0||0||2||5||0||0||0||0||25||27||5||8||94|
|Tyler Webb S,1||1.2||0||0||0||1||2||0||0||0||0||5||6||1||2||28|
Win - Montgomery (1-0). Loss - HERNDON, C. (0-1). Save - Webb (1). WP - RICHARDSON(1). HBP - by BANKEMPER, P (Costen). Pitches/strikes: HERNDON, C. 72/38; LYONS, J. 16/11; BANKEMPER, P 10/2; GRAY, R. 4/3; RICHARDSON 33/19; Montgomery 94/61; Sullivan, P. 31/14; Koumas 6/2; Webb 28/18.
Umpires - HP: Barry Chambers 1B: Richie Tallent 2B: Mike Guerry 3B: Randy
Start: 3:07 pm ... Time: 2:49 ... Attendance: 8,242
BANKEMPER, P faced 2 batters in the 7th.
GRAY, R. faced 1 batter in the 7th.
Koumas faced 2 batters in the 8th.