Commentary: Everything different, the same for USC baseball

nwhite@thestate.comMay 19, 2013 

WITH COLLEGE baseball’s regular season over and the conference tournaments ready to begin, South Carolina stands in a very familiar place.

With a 39-16 record — and a 17-12 SEC mark good enough for fourth place and a first-round bye in the SEC tournament — the No. 14 Gamecocks again are on the verge of winning 40 games and reaching the NCAA tournament.

If you look back at the previous 10 seasons under former coach Ray Tanner, South Carolina has had five regular-season finishes better than 39-16 and five not as good.

With a current RPI of No. 11, the Gamecocks are a solid bet to land an NCAA regional at Carolina Stadium but likely would have to travel somewhere for a Super Regional if they advance. First-year coach Chad Holbrook, who served as the top assistant on the three USC teams that reached the College World Series finals, knows the real journey is about to begin.

“We’re sort of on the outside looking in for a national (top eight) seed, but I feel good about our hosting chances,” Holbrook said before his team practiced at Samford in the Birmingham area Sunday afternoon.

“There are a couple of games I’d like to have back, we also probably won a couple of games we shouldn’t have won, too. With what we’ve been through with the ups and downs and from an injury standpoint, I feel good about where we are. If you finish in the top four in the SEC, you’ve done some good things.”

South Carolina won six of 10 SEC series, four by sweeps, and developed into a steady if unspectacular unit as the season progressed. The Gamecocks had to play around some injuries in the lineup and on the pitching staff, but they were able to compensate until players returned.

“We’re playing pretty much the same guys every day now,” Holbrook said. “Our pitching looks like it’s rounding into shape as far as our rotation is concerned. Our bullpen is throwing a little bit better now.”

Senior first baseman LB Danztler, the team’s top hitter, bounced back to rip a pair of homers on the final day of the Mississippi State series after dislocating his shoulder the week before. And the rotation looks solid with left-handers Nolan Belcher, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop. Left-handers Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb team up for a formidable one-two punch out of the bullpen.

Holbrook would like nothing more than to see his team build some momentum as it heads into the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks have not played well recently at the SEC tournament. They haven’t won more than one game in Hoover since the 2007 season, going 4-10 in the past five conference tournaments.

But he believes they may have more to play for with a potential national seed on the line.

“We just want to play well. Wins and losses are important at this stage of the year,” Holbrook said. “We have a lot to play for this week. I hope that we’ll play well and will be down here to stay a long time. We didn’t come back to Columbia for that reason so we could stay here as a team and practice and work out.”

He knows it would take higher-rated RPI teams such as Oregon, Cal-State Fullerton, N.C. State and Mississippi State to slip up as well.

“We’re probably on the outside looking in,” he added. “If we win some games, maybe we could get in the conversation. Who knows?”

Once the conference tournaments end, though, all 64 teams playing in the NCAA tournament will be 0-0. And that’s a scenario the Gamecocks understand well.


REGULAR SEASON FINISHES

Year Reg. season Final rec. Season finish
201339-16TBDTBD
201239-1549-20College World Series
201144-1255-14National champions
201043-1354-16National champions
200937-1940-23NCAA regional
200837-1940-23NCAA regional
200740-1646-20Super Regional
200636-2041-25Super Regional
200537-1941-23NCAA regional
200441-1553-17College World Series
200338-1845-22College World Series

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