Baseball is a crazy game. Look no further than South Carolinas four games last week for proof.
The Gamecocks began by dropping an ugly 7-6 decision in Shelby, N.C., to Gardner-Webb, a Big South team that was barely over .500 after losing five straight games. After allowing 15 hits and making four errors, USC left town with its worst loss of the season.
Next, the Gamecocks traveled to No. 2 LSU to face a team that hadnt lost a series all season and had won 26 of 27 games at an always-packed Alex Box Stadium. After dropping the first game, USC rebounded to win the final two by allowing two runs, none over the final 12 innings. The Gamecocks left Baton Rouge on a decidedly more upbeat note after posting their two best wins of the season.
But youre not going to see USC coach Chad Holbrook getting too down about the G-W loss or too excited about the LSU series win. He knows what his team can do, and he wasnt surprised by how it bounced back after the disappointing showing against the Runnin Bulldogs.
We ask our players to manage the good times and the bad, Holbrook said Monday. You have to handle the losses as you do the wins. If you dont, one loss can turn into two or three or four. Were a resilient group, and were finally starting to get healthy. This weekend we played pretty well.
And while knocking off the Tigers on their home turf might have some folks walking on the clouds, Holbrook knows better. While he was pleased with USCs standout pitching, solid defense and timely hitting, hes keeping everything in perspective even as his team won in an atmosphere that resembled a Super Regional.
Its one weekend. You cant make it more than it actually is, he said. We didnt win a championship. Were not going to Omaha because we did it. But we did beat a really, really good team a team that could win the national championship in an incredible environment, a hostile environment, and its a lot to be proud of.
Some of those points of pride included freshman left-hander Jack Wynkoops seven shutout innings in Sundays rubber game, senior left-hander Tyler Webbs two big saves and 21/3 innings of scoreless relief, and sophomore center fielder Tanner Englishs huge ninth-inning RBI triple for the game-winner Saturday night as well as his superb defense all weekend.
With Webb and sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery healthy again after some arm issues, the rotation and the bullpen are back at full strength. Also, Holbrook has settled on a regular lineup thats healthy with the exception of backup catcher Dante Rosenberg.
The Gamecocks (33-12, 13-8 SEC), who remained No. 15 in Baseball Americas Top 25 this week, have won 11 of their past 15 conference games to become a team to watch moving forward.
It gives us a shot of confidence, Holbrook said. I never thought we were lacking in any confidence, and I always thought we had a pretty confident group, but this weekend at LSU cant do anything but help us and give us confidence that we can beat any team in the country on any given day. You just want an opportunity to play at the end of the year.
The Gamecocks have played until the very end of the year the past three seasons with their appearances in the College World Series finals two of which culminated in national championships but it all starts with a bid to the NCAA tournament, something theyve received 13 straight seasons.
That history helps their outlook when facing the SECs top programs. Vanderbilt (39-6, 19-2), Baseball Americas new No. 2, comes to Carolina Stadium this weekend, but Holbrook carries his own confidence that his team can compete with anyone.
Weve been pretty good, too, he said. I dont think our guys have ever gone into a weekend thinking theyre going to lose a series or just hoping to get one (win). Thats not how we want our baseball players at South Carolina to think. We do have some confidence based on whats happened here in the past.
We believe that we work hard and do things the right way.