Baseball is a crazy game. Look no further than South Carolina’s four games last week for proof.
The Gamecocks began by dropping an ugly 7-6 decision in Shelby, N.C., to Gardner-Webb, a Big South team that was barely over .500 after losing five straight games. After allowing 15 hits and making four errors, USC left town with its worst loss of the season.
Next, the Gamecocks traveled to No. 2 LSU to face a team that hadn’t lost a series all season and had won 26 of 27 games at an always-packed Alex Box Stadium. After dropping the first game, USC rebounded to win the final two by allowing two runs, none over the final 12 innings. The Gamecocks left Baton Rouge on a decidedly more upbeat note after posting their two best wins of the season.
But you’re not going to see USC coach Chad Holbrook getting too down about the G-W loss or too excited about the LSU series win. He knows what his team can do, and he wasn’t surprised by how it bounced back after the disappointing showing against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
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“We ask our players to manage the good times and the bad,” Holbrook said Monday. “You have to handle the losses as you do the wins. If you don’t, one loss can turn into two or three or four. We’re a resilient group, and we’re finally starting to get healthy. This weekend we played pretty well.”
And while knocking off the Tigers on their home turf might have some folks walking on the clouds, Holbrook knows better. While he was pleased with USC’s standout pitching, solid defense and timely hitting, he’s keeping everything in perspective even as his team won in an atmosphere that resembled a Super Regional.
“It’s one weekend. You can’t make it more than it actually is,” he said. “We didn’t win a championship. We’re not going to Omaha because we did it. But we did beat a really, really good team — a team that could win the national championship — in an incredible environment, a hostile environment, and it’s a lot to be proud of.”
Some of those points of pride included freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoop’s seven shutout innings in Sunday’s rubber game, senior left-hander Tyler Webb’s two big saves and 21/3 innings of scoreless relief, and sophomore center fielder Tanner English’s huge ninth-inning RBI triple for the game-winner Saturday night as well as his superb defense all weekend.
With Webb and sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery healthy again after some arm issues, the rotation and the bullpen are back at full strength. Also, Holbrook has settled on a regular lineup that’s healthy with the exception of backup catcher Dante Rosenberg.
The Gamecocks (33-12, 13-8 SEC), who remained No. 15 in Baseball America’s Top 25 this week, have won 11 of their past 15 conference games to become a team to watch moving forward.
“It gives us a shot of confidence,” Holbrook said. “I never thought we were lacking in any confidence, and I always thought we had a pretty confident group, but this weekend at LSU can’t do anything but help us and give us confidence that we can beat any team in the country on any given day. You just want an opportunity to play at the end of the year.”
The Gamecocks have played until the very end of the year the past three seasons with their appearances in the College World Series finals — two of which culminated in national championships — but it all starts with a bid to the NCAA tournament, something they’ve received 13 straight seasons.
That history helps their outlook when facing the SEC’s top programs. Vanderbilt (39-6, 19-2), Baseball America’s new No. 2, comes to Carolina Stadium this weekend, but Holbrook carries his own confidence that his team can compete with anyone.
“We’ve been pretty good, too,” he said. “I don’t think our guys have ever gone into a weekend thinking they’re going to lose a series or just hoping to get one (win). That’s not how we want our baseball players at South Carolina to think. We do have some confidence based on what’s happened here in the past.
“We believe that we work hard and do things the right way.”