HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolinas three senior captains have made their share of great memories during their careers, and they would love to make a few more as they prepare for their final postseason.
Fifth-year pitchers Nolan Belcher and Patrick Sullivan and second-year first baseman LB Dantzler, who transferred from a Florida junior college, cant believe their time wearing USC uniforms is coming to a close.
Its going to be sad when that last out is made, Belcher said. Im just trying to take it one day at a time and enjoy myself. Baseballs probably going to be done for me after this year so Im trying to have as much fun as I can and end it on a positive note.
Belcher, who has won 18 games with a 3.28 ERA in 60 career appearances (35 of them starts), missed the 2011 season because of elbow surgery, but he wouldnt trade three trips to the College World Series with two national titles for anything. Neither would Sullivan, who has compiled a 4-0 mark with a 2.56 ERA in 47 career appearances.
Five years is a long time. Ill miss it when its over, for sure, Sullivan said. Its been a surreal experience, especially having Nolan with me the whole five years. Weve been roommates the whole time weve been here. Im hoping its not going to end any time soon.
They were named captains at the start of the season by their teammates for their ability to lead on and off the field. Belcher arrived from Augusta, Ga. Sullivan is a Columbia native whose father John played and coached baseball at USC. And Dantzler, who has made a huge impact in his short tenure with a .292 average, 24 homers and 95 RBIs over 122 games, hails from Winter Haven, Fla.
Its crazy to think about, Dantzler said. It seems like just yesterday I was signing my letter to go to JUCO. Now its my last time on this field getting ready for the SEC tournament. Its been a fun ride.
Dantzler, who practiced with his teammates Tuesday afternoon at Samford University, would love nothing more than to win an SEC tournament championship like his father, Brad, did with the Florida Gators in 1984. Yet he understands its a prelude to the bigger tournament ahead of them.
All three seniors are looking forward to another deep run when the NCAA regionals begin next week.
I definitely believe this team is capable of it. Weve got the talent to do it, Belcher said. I just hope we can play good in this stretch run, and if we can make it out there again, it would be a little bit more special this time for me because Ive been contributing more than in years past. It would mean a lot to me.
Sullivan has seen the Gamecocks, who are 39-16 and ranked No. 17 nationally this season, get going around this time the past three seasons.
Things have worked out for us when the postseason comes around. We tend to get hot, and weve been lucky to play our best baseball at the end of the year, Sullivan said. Weve been competitive all year. Hopefully, we can gain some momentum through the next couple of games, do well in the (SEC) tournament, carry it over into the (NCAA) regional and see where it goes from there.
Theyve worked to make some memories this season. Belcher never will forget his complete-game, three-hit shutout of Clemson to win that series. Sullivan fondly remembers the excitement of walk-off wins against Liberty and The Citadel. Dantzler remembers the fun theyve had off the field from the locker room to the bus rides.
All those things just help bring your team together. We bond over a lot of things, Sullivan said. We have a lot of loose guys. Our coaches definitely keep us loose. Theyre not sitting here yelling at us constantly. They let us be who we are, and thats why weve been successful the last couple of years. This group is no different.
But they know the most fun they can have would be another trip to the College World Series in Omaha.
Thats how you would draw it up if you could write the story on it and make it perfect, Dantzler said. That would be the ending.
WHO: USC vs. Mississippi State
WHAT: SEC tournament, second-round game
WHAT: SEC tournament, second-round game
WHERE: Hoover, Ala.
TV: CSS and ESPN3
RADIO: 107.5 FM in the Columbia area