Chad Holbrook’s baseball team opened up on South Carolina’s baseball team on Wednesday night, and then the Gamecocks' former coach opened up about how hard the day was for him.
“It was a tough day for me. I didn’t have much fun,” Holbrook said after the College of Charleston beat South Carolina 9-0 in Spirit Communications Park. “A lot of those (South Carolina) kids are special kids. However long the game took, I’ll be honest, Chad Holbrook was miserable. I’m a human being. There’s emotion involved. I feel like I gave my all to that program over there in my nine years here, and I hold my head high with what was accomplished both as an assistant and a head coach.”
Wednesday was Holbrook’s 201st victory in Columbia. The first 200 came as the Gamecocks head coach from 2013-2017, a stint that followed him serving as Ray Tanner’s top assistant for four seasons that included two national titles. Wednesday’s game, set after Holbrook had been replaced at USC by Mark Kingston, was billed as the Capitol City Clash and played at the home of Columbia’s minor league team in front of 5,867 fans.
Although Tanner and Holbrook have texted since Holbrook resigned as Tanner mulled his future last June, the two men haven’t spoken since that time, Holbrook said, and that didn’t change Wednesday.
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“He knows how hard it is. He’s going to give me my space,” Holbrook told The State. “He knows it’s difficult, and I’m sure it’s difficult for him. I love Ray Tanner, always will, and I know he loves me. He’s like my father and brother all rolled into one. We have to let the dust settle on this awkward situation, but when it finally settles, there will be a lot of conversations and a lot of hugs and a lot of thank yous. That day will come soon.”
A month ago, South Carolina fans might have felt differently about this result. Their Gamecocks were reeling under Kingston at that point but three straight SEC series wins against ranked teams have put them in the thick of the postseason hunt so South Carolina fans could afford then to be magnanimous to Holbrook, and they were.
Sure, there may have been some grumbling when Cougars first baseman Ari Sechopoulos attempted unsuccessfully to bunt with two on and nobody out in the top of the fourth. South Carolina diehards remain perplexed by Holbrook’s affinity for small ball, but he pushed all the right buttons Wednesday night against the Gamecocks.
The most important of those was the decision to start Evan Sisk, his regular Friday night starter, who will not be needed this weekend since the Cougars don’t play. Matched against South Carolina midweek starter Carmen Mlodzinski, Sisk was dominant. He allowed one hit and no runs while striking out five in seven innings of work.
“It’s not really fair, to be honest with you,” Holbrook said. “If you played the weekend and go No. 1 against No. 1, it’s a totally different game. We understand that. It’s not like I wanted to throw our No. 1 tonight. I didn’t want him to go two weeks without throwing. He needed to pitch tonight.”
After Sisk hit L.T. Tolbert with a pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning to load the bases, Tolbert glared at Sisk on the way to first base. Sisk promptly struck out Hunter Taylor and returned the stare to Tolbert at first base, adding audio for good measure as umpires escorted the Cougars off the field as several barked at Tolbert.
All night long, College of Charleston’s players were bouncing out of the dugout and celebrating raucously at any excuse, almost as if they were expressing the emotion they knew their new head coach could not.
“To see them play the way they played tonight was very gratifying to me,” Holbrook said. “They came to the park ready to go. Players are smart. They understand a lot about college baseball and what went on in the last couple years. They have been in my corner since the first day, and they laid it on the line for me tonight and I couldn’t be more proud.”
South Carolina’s players, meanwhile, seemed unable to get their bearings against their former boss.
“I think our kids probably tried to say it was just another game, but it clearly wasn't based on how we played tonight,” Kingston said.
Holbrook said he spoke to “a couple” of his former players before the game and would speak to a few more before leaving the ballpark Wednesday night. He also hoped it wasn’t the last time he sees them this season.
“I hope they make it to the College World Series and if they do, I’ll fly my tail out there and watch them play and support them,” he said. “A lot of them over there I love to death. I’ll be their biggest fan going forward.”