Chad Holbrook has followed along from a distance as South Carolina has surged the past few weeks and moved into a position to make the NCAA Tournament with three consecutive SEC series wins.
The former Gamecocks coach will get an up-close look at his former team’s turnaround at 7 p.m. Wednesday when Holbrook’s College of Charleston squad faces USC at Spirit Communications Park in Columbia.
The matchup will take place about 11 months after Holbrook resigned as South Carolina’s head coach. He was replaced by Mark Kingston before finding a new home at College of Charleston in late July.
The Cougars are 32-16 in Holbrook's first season.
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Holbrook was an assistant at South Carolina from 2009-2012 before taking over for Ray Tanner in 2013 and serving as the head coach of the Gamecocks for five seasons. He recruited almost all of the players currently on USC’s team.
“It’s going to be mixed emotions for sure. There’s going to be a lot of kids in the other dugout that I think the world of, that I recruited to South Carolina and want them to do extremely well,” Holbrook told The State. “It’s going to be a tad awkward. But I hope after the first pitch is thrown, it becomes a baseball game, and we’re going to try like crazy to put our players in the best position they can be in to have an opportunity to win and compete.”
Holbrook finished his time at USC with a record of 200-106. He led the Gamecocks to Super Regionals in 2013 and 2016 and was an assistant as USC won back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011.
But the Gamecocks missed the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2017, leading to Holbrook's departure. Even though his time in Columbia did not end the way he would have liked, he still cherishes the friendships he made.
“It’s going to be good to see a lot of people that have meant a lot to me that I care deeply about, from former players to support folks to fans or Gamecock Club members that have been so supportive of me,” Holbrook said. “It’ll be good to see some familiar faces.”
Holbrook is unsure if College of Charleston and USC will play regularly moving forward, but he said the opportunity to play this game was too much to pass up.
The teams will play in a minor league park, with a portion of all ticket sales being donated to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.
“It’s benefiting a great cause. It’s also giving a great platform to college baseball in an incredible venue. It’s giving our kids a chance at the College of Charleston that we don’t get every day, to play against one of the top teams in the country in a great facility,” Holbrook said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to play. In sports, when you have opportunities like this, you want to try to do your best. We’re certainly going to have to play our best and probably have a little help from South Carolina to have a chance, because they’re awfully gifted and awfully talented. It’s going to take a perfect game for us.”
Holbrook said when he left South Carolina that he was going to be USC’s biggest fan, and with the Gamecocks sitting at 28-19 (13-11 SEC), he insists that has been the case.
Jonah Bride, TJ Hopkins, LT Tolbert, Madison Stokes and Justin Row, veterans who Holbrook recruited to South Carolina, are all hitting better than .300 and have been key to USC’s impressive turnaround.
Holbrook did not mention any players by name but said it has been fun to see USC have so much success in 2018.
“It’s cool for me to know that those kids at South Carolina have played at such a high level and competing against the top teams in the country and have a chance to play in the College World Series. ... As their former coach, it’s really neat to see them put it together,” Holbrook said. “I pull for them to have as much success as they can. There are some great kids in that dugout that I would take as my own son. ... You always want your kids to play up to their potential and come together as a team, and it certainly looks like they’re doing that. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Gamecocks senior catcher Hunter Taylor downplayed the storyline of Holbrook being in the other dugout.
"It's just another game. I can speak for everyone who played for him, it means nothing," Taylor said. "It's a game we need to win against a good opponent."
Holbrook’s Charleston squad has had its share of success as well.
The Cougars finished with 31 wins in 2016 and 28 wins last season but are currently 32-16 in Holbrook’s first year with six regular season games remaining. The most impressive weekend of the year for Charleston came in early March when it swept Georgia. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 12.
“We’ve had a great experience. I’ve had a wonderful time. These kids have been great from Day 1. My coaches are terrific. It’s been awesome to be surrounded by some dedicated and loyal players and coaches. It’s been really neat for me to be here,” Holbrook said. “I get to coach baseball in Charleston and coach great kids at a great institution. I’m a lucky guy. I’m counting my blessings every single day.
"I look forward to each and every opportunity I get here. It’s a neat place. It’s a special place and I’m awfully lucky.”