South Carolina’s two senior left-handed relievers, Tyler Webb and Adam Westmoreland, anchored the bullpen and helped lift the team all season to put it in a position to reach the College World Series for a fourth straight year.
But the pair could not quite close out North Carolina Tuesday in a one-game showdown in the Super Regional’s decisive game. The duo, however, move on to their professional careers with a multitude of great experiences, including two national titles.
“It’s been a great four years here at South Carolina, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Webb said. “I wouldn’t trade one of the teammates I’ve shared it with. We’ve had a great group of guys, and we’ve had a good run. To this point, it’s definitely the highlight of my life, and I’ll cherish the memories for a long time.”
Webb, who was drafted in the 10th round by the New York Yankees, made a school-record 110 career appearances, going 15-7 with 20 saves -- including 17 this season, when he posted a 1.39 ERA.
Westmoreland, who was drafted in the 26th round by the Miami Marlins, saved his best for last this season while going 7-4 with three saves and a 2.60 ERA.
“I’ve been here since Coach (Chad) Holbrook started (in the fall of 2008), and it’s been a growing process the entire time,” Westmoreland said. “This year we all put it together and felt like we had a good team to make a good run at it and continue our postseason success, but North Carolina is a good team.”
Of the nine players in the starting lineup Tuesday for USC, seven will return for next season, with only first baseman LB Dantzler and third baseman Chase Vergason not coming back. Many of the sophomores will be prospects for next summer’s MLB draft, including catcher Grayson Greiner, center fielder Tanner English and shortstop Joey Pankake.
Holbrook likes how his 2014 team shapes up, especially given the experienced players returning and the group of newcomers arriving in the fall.
“We dodged the draft, and we’ve got some good players coming in here and we’re returning some good players,” Holbrook said. “I expect to be in this spot next year. Hopefully, we can win one more game or score two more runs next year.”
English knows that he’ll be one of the key veterans next season and wants to keep the postseason runs going with the new team.
“Coach Holbrook always says the most relaxed team that’s having the most fun is going to play the best baseball and give you the best chance to win. We did that this weekend,” English said. “Things just didn’t go our way. Next year we’ll do the same thing, and we’ll take some of the freshman under our wings and teach them to do that, too.”
To bunt or not to bunt
In the first inning of Tuesday’s game, USC’s first two hitters reached base. But instead of letting Pankake, the No. 3 hitter, swing away, Holbrook opted to have the .316 hitter with 42 RBIs attempt a sacrifice bunt. Pankake didn’t get down a good bunt, and the Tar Heels nailed the lead runner at third, which helped suck the life out of a potential rally as the Gamecocks didn’t score.
Holbrook said he did it because he really wanted to get both runners in scoring position so his team could score the first run. He understood plays like that one can end up being questioned.
“Everything’s magnified at this stage. When you lose by one run and you don’t get a bunt down, it comes back to get you,” he said.
Holbrook effusively praised the way UNC officials ran the Super Regional, mentioning many of his longtime friends by name for the way they treated the Gamecocks over the course of the six days.
And when it was over, UNC coach Mike Fox had good things to say about his former assistant.
“I want to congratulate Chad and South Carolina for a phenomenal, phenomenal year,” Fox said. “It’s almost unimaginable that if you go back to 2006 that one of the two programs has been in Omaha, and sometimes both of us were there at the same time. I have a great deal of respect for Chad and their staff. Chad did a lot of great things for this program and put us in this position when I first got here. So my hat’s off to them.”
Chad Holbrook postgame
Webb, English, Westmoreland postgame
Mike Fox postgame