The first time I realized something was different was 10 minutes before first pitch on Sunday night.
As South Carolina prepared to face Maryland for the second time in two days, I was asked by a Gamecock fan how I felt about South Carolina’s chances against the Terrapins.
And, for the first time in several years, I didn’t have an answer. For the first time since 2010, I had no idea if South Carolina was going to win a postseason baseball game.
The Gamecocks, ranked #1 in the nation for a portion of the year and owners of a 16-0 record in mid-March, lost five of their final eight games and missed the super regionals for the first time since 2009. In the wake of South Carolina’s loss to the Terrapins, many have wondered what could have happened to a team so talented and so seemingly destined for a lengthy postseason run. However, there is no easy explanation for why South Carolina struggled in the regional and some of the reasons given by disgruntled fans are simply false:
No “It” Factor:
The Gamecocks won nine games by one run this season and won five games in which they trailed entering the ninth inning. Any team that could grind out that many victories in the face of such adversity clearly had plenty of “it.”
Lack of Hitting:
South Carolina finished the season with a .281 team batting average, fifth in the SEC. Of the four teams in the Columbia Regional, the Gamecocks finished with the highest average for the weekend.
In Holbrook’s second season as head coach, the Gamecocks finished 44-18, failed to win a game in the SEC tournament and lost in a regional. In Ray Tanner’s second season as head coach (1998), the Gamecocks finished 44-18, failed to win a game in the SEC tournament and lost in a regional. Holbrook had to scramble for a majority of the season just to fill out a lineup card and still led the Gamecocks to 40+ wins.
The Wil Crowe Decision
Many thought that Wil Crowe should have been saved for the night game against Maryland, but that would have left South Carolina’s third game against the Terrapins in the hands of the bullpen. With the exception of Taylor Widener, the Gamecock bullpen was battered by Maryland and showed no signs that they could have handled another outing against the Terps.
Ultimately, South Carolina’s season was most likely ended by a lack of chemistry in the lineup. The Gamecocks were forced to shuffle players in and out of the lineup throughout the year. Even though injured players like Max Schrock and Connor Bright returned to South Carolina’s lineup in the postseason, the chemistry from leadoff to nine-hole hitter wasn’t there. Even though the Gamecocks probably had better talent than both the 2010 and 2011 teams, South Carolina couldn’t string together hits when the season was on the line.
Every season can’t end in Omaha and, even though fans are disappointed about this year’s results, there are plenty of programs around the state, around the conference, and around the nation in much worse shape than South Carolina.