Matt Connolly

Talented Gamecocks should have never been on the bubble

South Carolina came out on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble as the Gamecocks were one of the first four teams left out of the field.

USC was dealt some bad luck when upsets occurred during other conference tournaments, but the Gamecocks should have never been in the position to be sweating while hoping for a bid.

A bad Selection Monday used to mean the Columbia Regional was paired with a tough team in the supers. Two of the past three years it has meant if the Gamecocks want to attend the NCAA Tournament, they will have to buy a ticket.

South Carolina isn’t a program that’s judged on what happens during the regular season. At least it hasn’t been until recently.

A good year was making a super regional. A great year was making it to Omaha.

Missing the NCAA Tournament? That never even entered the thought process.

From 2000 to 2014, South Carolina made the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks advanced to a super regional 11 of those 15 years and ended their season in Omaha six times with a pair of national titles in 2010 and 2011.

The facilities at South Carolina are top notch. The talent in-state and in bordering states is plentiful, and the Gamecocks get more than their fair share.

This South Carolina team had three starting pitchers that coach Chad Holbrook described as “Friday-night guys,” and his description was an accurate one.

Clarke Schmidt, Wil Crowe and Adam Hill provide about as good of a starting rotation as you could hope to have.

Yes, Schmidt went down halfway through the season, but even with him, USC was struggling.

In the bullpen, the Gamecocks had a proven closer in Tyler Johnson and veteran arms around him in Reed Scott and Josh Reagan. Colie Bowers also emerged as a guy who could be used to finish off big games.

Johnson also missed time with an injury, but with him or without him, USC couldn’t close the door late, blowing a lead seven times when entering the eighth with a lead.

Offensively, South Carolina was never going to be great, but the Gamecocks had a freshman stud in Carlos Cortes, who put on a show in SEC play and veterans Alex Destino, LT Tolbert and Jonah Bride were expected to have big years.

The Gamecocks finished the season with 58 home runs in 60 games, which is a record for USC in the era of the new bats.

South Carolina did not have a .300 hitter, but Cortes, Jacob Olson, Tolbert and Bride were above .280, and Holbrook said in the preseason that he liked his lineup so much he was having trouble finding room for everyone to play.

The talent was there for South Carolina to finish this season in Omaha instead of at home, and a lot of that talent will be moving on.

Schmidt, Crowe, Johnson, Scott, Reagan and Bowers have all thrown their final pitch at Founders Park. Lefty John Parke graduated and could be drafted high enough to move on as well.

If USC couldn’t get into the tournament with this loaded pitching staff, the bad Selection Monday could continue its new meaning next year.

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