In 2013, Chad Holbrook’s first year, the Gamecocks had won another Regional title and were making their 11th Super Regional appearance since 2000. Let’s face it, winning a Regional, especially at home, had become expected and demanded by fans; and honestly that’s ok. It means you’ve arrived; and the Gamecocks absolutely were one of the elite programs in the country. Fast forward one year and the Gamecocks were stunned at home by Maryland, and we know what followed last season.
Now, in 2016, fans not only have an idea again of what recent history feels like, but understand once more how difficult it is and how good you have to be to win a Regional. (Just ask NC St, Virginia and Ole Miss) If you haven’t seen the locker room celebration video, pull up my twitter feed. (@ryanclary1400) It gives you a clear picture of what it means to the players and Holbrook.
Speaking of the head coach: A message to the Holbrook haters – IT’S TIME TO STOP!
Make no mistake, for 4 years I have questioned some of the lineups he has put out. There’s no reason to rehash any of that now, and I know some of you reading this have had your own issues with him. However let’s be clear, he had a fantastic season. His in-game decision making has improved a ton, he really worked hard in becoming his own coach with his own style this year, and his lineup choices really improved as the year went on. Put that together with the regular season results and it’s been an “extension earning” year.
The other issue many have had with Holbrook has been his postseason failures. First off, taking the 2013 UNC team to a Super Regional game 3 with that injured USC team was pretty impressive. The disaster of the 2014 Regional – I get it, and of course there’s the failure that was 2015 and not making it at all. After dropping Friday night’s game to Rhode Island and a great performance by Tyler Wilson, USC was in a bad spot to repeat recent history. But 4 wins in a row, even at home, really says something about the toughness and mental state of this team…and that starts with the Head Coach. Holbrook’s teams have been criticized in the past for the mental toughness; the 2016 team should be praised for it.
USC caught a few breaks Saturday against Duke. Taylor’s double off the bag in the 9th was a turning point according to a few of the players. We told you many times on Open Mic that the Gamecocks were built to come back through a regional even with a loss. They showed that with great pitching performances by Adam Hill and a Michael Roth type of outing from Tyler Johnson. The Gamecocks also saw the opposing pitching take a big step down and for the first time in a long time, the bats arrived. It seemed like everyone was hitting on Sunday, including DC Arendas, who had a cycle when combining both Sunday games.
Speaking real quick about hitting; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a college player have the plate awareness that Gene Cone has. His ability to read if a pitch is a ball or a strike is at a professional level and his recovery time on inside fastballs is incredibly impressive. He has some of the fastest hands I’ve seen in years.
UNCW caught a break when Monday’s game was rained out. Now Ryan Foster got an extra day and was hoping to give his ball club 6 innings. After the first 3, Gamecock fans were wondering if the regular season bats had shown back up. They didn’t.
USC ran off Foster in the 4th and never looked back. It got interesting in the 8th, but UNCW never brought the tying run to the plate. Webb closed it out and it was celebration time once again. That sound of a Regional title you hear at a home stadium never gets old if you are a fan of college baseball. Now the Gamecocks head to their 12th Super Regional, tied for the most amongst SEC teams with LSU, and once again they’ll be at home. I expect the crowd to be rocking.
One more quick note – TJ Hopkins. USC has been lacking the big inning all year until Sunday. However the pitching the Gamecocks saw Sunday was subpar at best. Tuesday, USC faced Ryan Foster and he was mowing down the Gamecocks. In the 4th, Cone led off with a single and it was followed by…wait for it…another single by TJ Hopkins…his 92 hit of the weekend, or so it seemed. He hit all weekend and when USC needed to get the bats going he put 2 on with 0 outs for the big bats. The result – a 5 run inning. Hopkins certainly shouldn’t get all the credit, but think back how that inning played out. It would’ve been a lot different without TJ Hopkins hitting 2nd; something I’ve been wanting to see all year. If you are a Gamecock fan, Hopkins has “3 year” player written all over him. Here’s to hoping you never see him not in the top 2 again…where he belongs.
Even with USC’s success in Regionals over the years, I hope Gamecock fans appreciate what this team just did, and at least for a year, back off of Chad Holbrook. He’s earned a tip of your cap.