CHAD HOLBROOK obviously had a difficult time Monday lighting a fire under his South Carolina baseball team, which sleepwalked through a loss to Clemson at Carolina Stadium.
His players did not find the task as difficult in lighting the coach’s fuse with their comments following the 7-0 defeat that gave Clemson its first series win over USC since 2010.
“It was really frustrating,” second baseman Max Schrock said of an afternoon in which USC was limited to four singles, advanced one runner to third base against Clemson right-hander Brody Koerner and committed four errors.
“It didn’t feel like there was much energy throughout the whole game,” Schrock said.
Kyle Martin, the USC first baseman who, like Schrock, went hitless in four plate appearances, echoed his teammate.
“We didn’t come out with energy at all,” he said.
After Schrock and Martin finished their comments and departed the media room, Holbrook entered and went through his perfunctory compliments for a Clemson team that proved to be the antithesis of his club. The Tigers played at a high level, got timely hitting, solid defense and outstanding pitching.
Then Holbrook was told of the comments from his players.
“That’s a joke,” Holbrook said, turning red faced as he paused to take a deep breath.
“If you can’t get up playing Clemson in our own ballpark with 70-degree weather, I’ve got the wrong guys in the locker room,” Holbrook said. “If that was the case, that’s an excuse.”
Holbrook was getting started.
“I’ll get right back at it tomorrow,” he continued. “They’ll be some different guys in the lineup, I’m sure. I’ve got to figure something out. That can’t, won’t happen. That’s not going to continue to happen.
“We were fearful. We were fearful today, timid. That’s not the way South Carolina’s supposed to play.
“I think we came down (to the ballpark) with an edge about us. I think we had a good pregame meal. I could see some bounce. The kids were excited about playing. Then we got out there in the white lines and didn’t handle adversity very well, which we pride ourselves on.”
Holbrook then got specific. Left fielder Elliott Caldwell appeared to shy from the fence on a drive by Clemson’s Steven Duggar in the seventh inning that dropped for a double, driving in one run and leading to another. Following a throwing error by Marcus Mooney that led to a Clemson run in the second inning, Holbrook said his shortstop began making timid throws to first base.
At the plate, the two hitters who are likely to determine whether USC scores runs this season – Schrock and Martin – struggled in the series. They combined for five singles in 24 at-bats and did not drive in a run.
“We’ve got to get a lot better, and we’ve got to get a lot better in a hurry,” Holbrook said. “As a coach, I’ve got to figure out a way to get the right guys in there. We have good players, and some of our best players aren’t playing very well right now. That magnifies the situation.”
As frustrated or angry, or both, as Holbrook and his team might have been following the loss, it is far too early in the season to hit the panic button. You can count on both hands the number of times over the past six seasons that USC has used this kind of adversity to spark the team.
Fans need only be reminded that in 2010 USC dropped a 19-6 decision to Clemson in the rubber game of that regular-season series. Later that season, USC was eliminated in two games in the SEC tournament before charging to the national championship.
USC was not nearly as bad as it looked in Monday’s loss. But, if Holbrook has anything to do with it – and he does – the Gamecocks will not again play this season with a lack of energy and enthusiasm.
Or at least the players will not talk about it afterward.