Chad Holbrook’s homecoming began Monday night with his induction into the Cleveland County Sports Hall of Fame.
It ended on a far less happy note.
Gardner-Webb pulled out a 7-6 victory against the No. 15 Gamecocks on Tuesday night at Keeter Stadium on the campus of Shelby High, where Holbrook starred in three sports in the late 1980s before he went on to play baseball at North Carolina.
Holbrook, whose father Eddie coached Gardner-Webb in basketball from 1964-78 and was inducted in the Cleveland County Sports Hall of Fame in 1972, watched his team make four errors, including a critical throwing error in the ninth by shortstop Joey Pankake that allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Holbrook loved the atmosphere provided by the near-sellout crowd of 4,825 in the ballpark, which hosts the American Legion World Series in the summer, but he didn’t like that his team failed to execute at the plate, on the mound, on the base paths and in the field.
“It’s very disappointing. I bring my team to my hometown and we didn’t play well,” Holbrook said. “I just wish we would have performed a little better for the people that came out to watch us.”
Holbrook called the night “unexplainable and inexcusable at the same time,” while catcher Grayson Greiner, who had a two-run double in the fifth inning to tie the game at 4-4, called it “a little embarrassing” and “ugly.”
Second baseman Max Schrock made a throwing error that led to a run in the first inning. Left-fielder Graham Saiko dropped a fly ball that led to a run in the fifth inning. Third baseman Chase Vergason couldn’t come up with a ground ball for an error that led to the tying run in the eighth inning. And Pankake’s errant throw trying to cut down a runner at third base in the ninth went into the GWU dugout and allowed the game-winner to come home.
“If we can’t make those plays defensively, we’re not going to win many games,” said Holbrook, who saw none of the same passion and enthusiasm from the USC team that swept Kentucky over the weekend.
He believed Pankake should have made the play at third. Pankake, who made his team-leading 15th error, called it a tough chance.
“This ball was right at me. I was at an awkward throwing angle and tried to do too much,” Pankake said.
The Gamecocks (31-11), who travel to play No. 2 LSU for a weekend series that begins Friday, couldn’t hold off the scrappy Bulldogs (21-19-1), who overcame a 6-4 deficit to pull out the win while outhitting USC 15-13. Joel Seddon (1-1), one of five USC pitchers, took the loss.
“They outcompeted us and played with some emotion. They deserved to win,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook tried to get through the game without using top relievers Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb, but his staff allowed 21 base-runners on hits, walks and a hit batsman on the night — a problem made more glaring by the four errors that kept innings alive.
“I have as much faith in every one of my teammates as I do in Webb and Westy,” Greiner said. “That’s part of being a team. You’ve got to trust that your guys are going to get the job done.”
GWU left-hander Mitch Warner (3-0) pitched 41/3 innings of strong relief to get the win, while Brad Collins, who had a two-run double in the first inning to start the scoring, and Ryan Hodge led the Bulldogs with three hits each.
LB Dantzler led the Gamecocks with three hits, while Connor Bright had an RBI double in the second as well as RBI single in the seventh that gave USC a 6-4 lead. T.J. Costen had an RBI single in the fifth and threw out a runner at the plate in the same inning as a fill-in for Tanner English in center field.
But it wasn’t enough to get the win against the Big South foe.
“Mentally, we’ve got to be able to rebound from this and not let it carry over into the weekend,” Greiner said.