After losing the first game of the weekend series against Mississippi, the South Carolina baseball team was one strike away in the ninth inning of the second game from losing the series – twice.
The first time, Connor Bright singled to cut the Ole Miss lead to 4-2. The second time, Max Schrock blasted an improbable two-run homer to tie the score. One inning later, Brison Celek delivered the game-winning RBI single in a 5-4 win to even the series.
The Gamecocks then won the third game 3-1 later in the same day to send the Rebels back to Oxford surely shaking their heads over how they let the series get away.
Ole Miss learned what Clemson did earlier in the season. The Gamecocks aren’t going down quietly, even when there’s little hope left. That resilience kept them No. 1 in the Baseball America Top 25 released Monday.
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USC coach Chad Holbrook said after the series finale his players have a quality that’s goes beyond something that can be coached.
“They feel they can win every game,” he said.
The Gamecocks (18-1) trailed Ole Miss by three runs going into the ninth inning and didn’t score their first run until two outs were made. They trailed Clemson two weeks ago by two runs heading into the ninth and needed four straight two-out hits to push across four runs.
The players know the ability is there to forge comebacks. Just as importantly, they believe in each other to get it done. Holbrook credits their “great character.”
Junior center fielder Tanner English, who found himself in the middle of both of those rallies, points to the attitude of the players.
“We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting,” English said. “As you have seen, we’ve been down some games and we came back. You can’t ever let your guard down. Baseball’s a funny game. Coach Holbrook always talks about the baseball gods. The baseball gods are going to help you out if you’re playing hard and giving it your all for all nine innings.”
South Carolina has steadily built a reputation as a never-say-die unit over the last four seasons, which include three College World Series appearances with two national titles and one other Super Regional appearance. To get to that level each season, the Gamecocks must find a way to win a lot of close games against top-notch competition, from the Clemson series to 30 SEC games to postseason play.
This team features a lot of battle-tested juniors like English, Bright, Grayson Greiner, Joey Pankake, Kyle Martin, Jordan Montgomery and Joel Seddon. They’re the driving force behind the great start, one that appears to show the Gamecocks have what it takes to return to Omaha for the fourth time in five seasons.
Holbrook and his coaching staff, however, prefer to keep their sights set on the next set of games, in this case Kentucky, when pushing their players to keep getting better.
“Our coaches don’t talk to them about winning championships or got to get to Omaha. We don’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about when Coach (Ray) Tanner was here,” Holbrook said. “All we talked about was playing your butts off and working your butts off and competing hard the next game to try and win and, no matter what the circumstances, to never give up and never give in.”
The refuse-to-lose mentality has the Gamecocks winning, even when the proverbial going gets tough. Holbrook believes that singular focus is important, especially when players don’t look past the next game, the next inning, the next at-bat, and even the next pitch, when the opponent is one strike away from victory.
“The beautiful thing about this game is there’s no clock and there’s no time limit. You’ve got to get that 27th out,” Holbrook said. “I’ve got a resilient group of players. They always believe they can win the game. Lo and behold, they found a way to do it when the odds were stacked against them.”