Matt Connolly

It’s OK for fans to buy into this South Carolina team

South Carolina fans have seemed hesitant to fully buy into this Gamecocks team, afraid to commit 100 percent only to suffer another letdown like last season.

USC went 17-2 in nonconference action to open the year … “Yeah, but last year Carolina only lost three nonconference games and look what happened.”

The Gamecocks opened SEC play with a sweep of a top-15 team in Arkansas … “Yeah, but USC swept Kentucky last year to open SEC play and finished 13-17 in the conference.”

Carolina then swept a top-10 team in Ole Miss on the road … “Yeah, it’s a nice start, but let’s see if they can keep it up.”

They have. After four league series, the Gamecocks are 10-2 in the SEC, the best start in school history, and have a two-game lead on the rest of the conference.

Overall, South Carolina is 28-5 and ranked as high as No. 2 in the country.

Still, some fans seem cautious. USC was going for a sweep of Tennessee on Sunday, and the game was close throughout, but Founders Park sounded more like a church than a baseball stadium for much of the afternoon.

Carolina coach Chad Holbrook brought up the crowd noise, or lack thereof, unprovoked in his postgame press conference, noting that the first time he really noticed the crowd was when Alex Destino pinch hit in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“I think that was the first time our fans started cheering was when Destino got in the batter’s box. It was kind of a quiet park today,” Holbrook said. “We were going for a sweep, and heck, we’re sitting up here 27-5. I want our fans to participate a little bit more and make it hard on our opponents.”

South Carolina is averaging 7,250 fans, its fewest at this point in the season in the past three years, and while the crowd number ranks fourth in the country, the noise level isn’t there consistently.

“I think we’ve made a lot of people happy,” Holbrook said. “But it’s not as loud as I want it to be. It’s not the atmosphere I want in this stadium yet.”

Holbrook is asking for a better environment in part because he has been in Columbia long enough to see firsthand what a difference a crowd can make. On numerous occasions over the past several years, the fans have practically willed USC to a win.

“Recruits want to come play here because of the atmosphere our fans create. We can make it awfully hard on our opponent. I don’t know if we’re making it as hard as we can from an atmosphere standpoint,” Holbrook said. “But that’s being picky. I love our fans. Our fans are incredible. We have 7,000 people at every game. Our season ticket holders are incredible, but it’s much easier for us to win when you can’t hear yourself think.”

The lack of crowd noise at times is surprising, in part, because the Gamecocks have a team that is easy to cheer for.

Carolina was doubted by a lot of prognosticators in the preseason, but is proving several people wrong, and a different player seems to step up every day.

A roster filled with talented newcomers has gelled with a group that suffered through a disappointing 2015 season.

Clarke Schmidt, Josh Reagan, Alex Destino, Gene Cone, DC Arendas and Marcus Mooney welcomed Braden Webb, Dom Thompson-Williams, John Jones, Chris Cullen, Jonah Bride and LT Tolbert with open arms.

The combination has produced a winner on the field and no problems off of it.

“I’ve got a lot of character in that locker room, not just when they’re here. I’m talking about when they’re not here,” Holbrook said. “Up to this point they’ve handled their business, they’ve been responsible, and they conduct themselves in a first-class manner and represent our program in the right way. Ultimately, I think that helps them win games… We’ve got some gritty guys. They compete and battle, and we play defense, and we throw strikes. You couple that with some toughness and some character and you’ve got a chance to win.”

2016 baseball attendance

South Carolina is fourth in the national in average baseball home game attendance, according to the NCAA. Nine of the top 20 teams are in the SEC.

1. LSU

10,597

2. Ole Miss

8,495

3. Arkansas

8,041

4. South Carolina

7,250

5. Mississippi St.

7,067

6. Texas

5,229

7. Texas A&M

5,194

8. Florida

4,052

9. Florida St.

4,195

10. Nebraska

5,051

11. Clemson

4,742

12. Virginia

3,422

13. Miami (FL)

3,053

14. TCU

4,069

15. Hawaii

2,919

16. Vanderbilt

2,955

17. Alabama

4,002

18. La.-Lafayette

4,273

19. East Carolina

2,667

20. Rice

2,782

SEC Baseball Standings

East

CONF

OVERALL

SC

10-2

28-5

Florida

8-4

29-5

Kentucky

8-4

22-9

Vanderbilt

7-5

25-7

Missouri

4-8

19-14

Georgia

4-8

17-16

Tennessee

3-9

18-14

West

CONF

OVERALL

Miss. State

8-4

23-9-1

Texas A&M

7-5

24-7

Ole Miss

6-6

25-7

LSU

6-6

21-10

Alabama

6-6

19-13

Arkansas

4-8

20-12

Auburn

3-9

15-17

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