Just because the South Carolina baseball team failed to reach the College World Series for the first time in four seasons doesnt mean expectations have dropped for the program.
Chad Holbrook will begin his second season as the USC head coach leading a team thats loaded with potential, according to the national experts. Both Baseball America and Perfect Game, the two leading authorities on college baseballs national scene, are projecting the Gamecocks, who fell one win shy of the CWS with a Super Regional Game 3 loss to North Carolina, to make it to Omaha next summer.
With the core lineup and several top pitchers returning, along with a talented recruiting class coming in, South Carolina, which finished 43-20 in Holbrooks first campaign, should be in the mix for another run at the national championship.
Baseball Americas Aaron Fitt pegged USC as one of the eight participants in the 2014 CWS along with Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, N.C. State, Oregon, Oregon State, Vanderbilt, and Virginia.
Heres what Fitt wrote this week:
The Gamecocks reached a Super Regional this year with a team whose most talented players were underclassmen. Sure, South Carolina will miss departed seniors LB Dantzler, Nolan Belcher and Tyler Webb, but the returning pieces are outstanding. Shortstop Joey Pankake, second baseman Max Schrock, catcher Grayson Greiner and center fielder Tanner English will make South Carolina one of the nations best teams up the middle.
Connor Bright, Graham Saiko, Kyle Martin, Brison Celek and T.J. Costen should lead a strong supporting cast. And South Carolina should be able to build a solid pitching staff around lefties Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop, who will form an excellent one-two punch.
Perfect Games Kendall Rogers had a similar appraisal, as he tabbed the Gamecocks to advance to Omaha next season along with Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, Indiana, Mississippi State, Oregon State, UCLA, and Virginia.
Heres what Rogers wrote this week:
Hey, remember these guys? The Gamecocks stole the show in Omaha for three years with back-to-back national titles, and national runner-up honors in 2012. However, the Gamecocks stayed at home this June after dropping a hard-fought, three-game series against North Carolina. With that said, look for the garnet and black to make the trek back to Omaha next June. The bullpen certainly is a concern for the Gamecocks without Tyler Webb and Adam Westmoreland, but keep an eye on a very talented crop of newcomers, including Cody Mincey, Wil Crowe, John Parke and Canaan Cropper, among others.
The Gamecocks also will have a very good starting rotation with left-handed pitchers, junior Jordan Montgomery and sophomore Jack Wynkoop, back in the mix. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks should have a very good offensive lineup. The Gamecocks return six of their top seven leading hitters, but must replace hard-hitting first baseman LB Dantzler. Junior soon-to-be two-way player Joey Pankake is expected to have an All-American type of campaign, while catcher Grayson Greiner and outfielder Tanner English also are capable of having very good years at the plate, with Greiner making strides as a sophomore this past season. South Carolina is hungry again, and should return to Omaha after a one-year hiatus.