Back-to-Back National Champions Day

Baseball team, coach recognized at State House

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 8, 2012 

Scott Wingo looked around the lobby of the State House after Wednesday morning’s celebration to honor the University of South Carolina’s back-to-back national championship baseball teams and couldn’t quite believe where he was.

A four-year starter for the Gamecocks and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 College World Series, Wingo never pictured a moment quite like this one.

“I couldn’t have imagined it when I came here as a freshman,” Wingo said. “It just shows the support of South Carolina and the true fans we have. You reflect and look back on what we did, and it makes you realize how special it was.”

USC coach Ray Tanner accepted the framed flag that flew over the State House after last summer’s championship victory over Florida from Gov. Nikki Haley in a ceremony that filled the lobby with lawmakers, fans and media. Tanner smiled as he noted this event didn’t come as easy to his players as putting on a uniform and playing a game.

“Our guys were a little bit nervous when we walked in this morning,” Tanner said. “We’ve all got our coats and ties on, and we were over in the governor’s chambers. It was a little bit intimidating, but we had had fun with it, and she put everybody at ease.”

Haley made a few remarks and also issued a proclamation honoring the accomplishments of the two-time champions.

“All of you know that I am a diehard Clemson alumni, but I will tell you today that I am a proud governor and a proud citizen of the state of South Carolina,” she said. “When we look at the efforts and the work that went into what this team did and how they made the entire state proud, there was not a person in the state that didn’t have chills when they saw the Carolina flag flying over the State House.”

Tanner’s assistant coaches and staff also attended the ceremony, as well as USC president Harris Pastides, athletics director Eric Hyman, current player Adam Matthews, and former players Jackie Bradley, Whit Merrifield, Blake Cooper, Brady Thomas, John Taylor, Steven Neff and Wingo. Other current players had class conflicts.

Wingo, Bradley, Merrifield, Cooper, Taylor and Neff all have moved on to play in the professional ranks.

The players posed for pictures and signed even more autographs on what Haley proclaimed Back-to-Back National Champions Day.

“It always feels great to be honored for something you accomplished,” said Bradley, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 CWS. “To do it at the State House, it feels great. This definitely is unique. You kind of get a loss for words because this is an opportunity that not many people get to experience.”

The group then moved to the floor of the House of Representatives, which honored the baseball program with the requisite speeches and resolutions for each of the two championships.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell stated the legislators were happy to share this celebration with the teams that have brought great recognition to the Palmetto state.

“We’re incredibly proud of you. All of us brag on you everywhere we go,” Harrell said. “Thank you for representing your state so well.”

Tanner, who has taken the Gamecocks to five CWS appearances and 13 NCAA tournaments as he enters his 16th season at USC, appreciated all the warm remarks. He admitted the team’s achievements seem to have resonated with South Carolinians everywhere he has traveled.

“It really did capture the entire state and maybe beyond that,” he said. “We had so much fun with it, and so many people were a part of it and enjoyed our experience as much as we did. We’re just excited to be here today.”

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