As expected, South Carolina’s Sunday series finale against second-ranked Vanderbilt was rained out. Per Southeastern Conference rules, it will not be made up. So USC will play, at most, 29 SEC games this season – the same number it played last season.
If you had a ticket to Sunday’s game, it will be honored either Wednesday night against Wofford or for next weekend’s home finale series against Georgia.
So why was Sunday’s game not moved to Saturday, as a doubleheader?
The series’ first two games, which USC lost, were televised on SportSouth and Sunday’s was supposed to be on CSS. But USC coach Chad Holbrook said television had nothing to do with why a doubleheader was not played on Saturday.
“First of all, there was discussion about (having a Saturday doubleheader),” Holbrook said. “And here ultimately is why we didn’t make that call to play two games yesterday: We have final exams at this university on Saturday morning and we played Friday night. Our kids got out of here at 11 or 12 o’clock on Friday night and some of them had 8 a.m. finals. One was our starting pitcher (Jordan Montgomery), our starting shortstop (Joey Pankake) and some other guys. So they’re working on two or three hours of sleep. For me as their coach, and our administration agreed with me completely, to ask them to play 18 innings after three hours of sleep because we’re in finals wasn’t fair to our players.
“We were hoping that we would be able to get the game in today, but it just didn’t work out and the field conditions got a little bit hazardous and after talking with (Vanderbilt) coach (Tim) Corbin, it wasn’t in their best interests either. When you have to make a decision to cancel a conference game, it’s not just my decision or coach (Ray) Tanner’s decision or our administration. It’s the SEC’s decision, coach Corbin plays a part, the umpires play a part, because the 30 games are awfully important. I don’t feel good at all sitting up here saying we have a game cancelled. Just like last year, we lost a game against Georgia. It’s no fun to lose an SEC game, but you also have a lot of games in front of us, too, and you have to take some of those things into account.”
In terms of guys who had Saturday exams, Holbrook said, “I think we had six or seven. I know several starters. I don’t know exactly. But I know that Jordan and (catcher) Grayson (Greiner) and Joey. I know that those three had them, and there were some more as well. We thought about waiting to play tonight. That was on the table, but it just didn’t make much sense. We’re in finals tomorrow, too. We’ve got some that have two finals tomorrow. That kind of factored into things, too. It’s not good. You have a weekend like this in the middle of final exams and you’re playing an elite team like Vanderbilt and you have bad weather, I think we made the best of a bad decision in regard to that kind of thing.”
OK, so where does this leave USC?
Technically, the series will go down as a sweep, with an asterisk. So this is the first time since USC joined the SEC in 1992 that it has been swept at home twice in the same season.
This is also the second time in USC’s SEC era, and first time since 2008, that the Gamecocks have been swept three times in one season. It happened with three road series in 2008. USC has now been swept six times at home in the SEC era. Before this season, it hadn’t happened since 1999, in a series against Kentucky that included two seven-inning games. Arkansas swept USC at home earlier this season.
But what about USC’s pursuit of a top eight national seed in the NCAA tournament? How does Sunday’s rain-out affect that?
If USC won today, it would have helped as a resume-builder, for sure. But the Gamecocks had already lost the series and they still have three chances for quality wins left in the season finale series at Mississippi State, which entered this weekend ranked No. 22, seven spots behind USC. Georgia is not good, so those aren’t chances for quality wins.
USC is currently just on the outside of the national seed group, according to Perfect Game’s latest projection. In addition to the Mississippi State series, the Gamecocks could have chances at quality wins in the SEC tournament. So while Sunday’s rain-out was a missed opportunity, it isn’t USC’s last opportunity to push itself toward a national seed.
A national seed matters for USC because it would guarantee the Gamecocks of hosting a Super Regional if they advanced that far.
USC has played in the College World Series six times since the NCAA adopted the Super Regional format. In all but one of those years, 2010, the Gamecocks hosted a Super Regional. In 2010, they had to just travel to Myrtle Beach.
Consider that USC is 5-1 in home Super Regionals, in terms of advancing to the World Series or not, with the exception being 2000, when Louisiana-Lafayette stunned the Gamecocks. In road Super Regionals, they are 1-3, with losses in 2001 at Stanford, 2006 at Georgia and 2007 at North Carolina, in addition to the Myrtle Beach win over Coastal Carolina in 2010.
Out of USC’s six Omaha trips under the national seed format, the Gamecocks got a top eight seed four times – No. 2 in 2004, No. 4 in 2011, No. 6 in 2002 and No. 8 in 2012. They benefited in 2003 from No. 3 national seed Georgia Tech losing in a Regional, so the Gamecocks got to host a Super Regional. And in 2010, the Gamecocks went on the road for the Super Regional.
These past three series (home against Kentucky, at LSU and home against Vanderbilt) were going to go a long way toward determining if USC would get a national seed. USC swept Kentucky, went 2-1 at LSU and 0-2 against Vanderbilt – a 5-3 finish in those series that sets things up nicely for USC entering the final two series (Georgia and at Mississippi State).
A lot is still left to be determined for Holbrook’s first team. He knows all that really matters is if the Gamecocks play well in the NCAA tournament. That is what their season will be judged on. While Holbrook certainly wanted a chance to win a game Sunday against Vanderbilt, he knows that his program – which won the national title in 2010 and 2011 and finished second in Omaha last year – has bigger tasks to handle once the NCAA tournament begins on May 31.
In terms of the immediate future, Holbrook hopes to find an in-state school to play on Tuesday, before the Gamecocks host Wofford on Wednesday. (So you could use your Sunday Vanderbilt ticket for that Tuesday game, if it happens.) Holbrook wants to fulfill a 56-game schedule if he can. So maybe an in-state school will be coming to Columbia on Tuesday. Stay tuned. Still, Holbrook knows Sunday was a chance for a quality win that didn’t happen.
“Every game that’s cancelled is a missed opportunity,” he said. “But we’ll try to reschedule a game. We can’t get Vanderbilt back in here, but we’re going to try to play 56. I’ll call around tomorrow (to in-state schools) and see if we can find another team to play. That’s not ever easy, but some people will be looking for a game. We’ve had some quality wins. Our resume is pretty good. I think our RPI is 10th or 12th. We’re in the discussion. We kind of control some of our own destiny.
“That being said, the challenges in front of us are very big. But if you’d have asked me at the beginning of the year, especially with all that’s gone on with our team (injury-wise) through the course of the season, that we would be sitting here with a top 15 RPI and have a chance to host a Regional and kind of control your own destiny for the next six games in regard to accomplishing some of the things you want to accomplish, I would sign up for it in a New York minute. That being said, we’re in a decent spot, but we’ve certainly got to concentrate on playing some better baseball and some of our best baseball down the stretch.”
In terms of the importance of getting a national seed, he said, “It’s not easy to come here and win. I know Arkansas and Vandy kind of made it look easy, but historically it’s not. We certainly like our chances when we’re playing at home. I don’t think you have to win out to be in that discussion (for a national seed). If you play great in the last two series and you play well in the conference tournament, if you get in the top four of our league, I think you’re in the discussion for a national seed, especially if you play well in the (SEC) tournament. That’s kind of our short-term goal, even though it’s not our biggest goal. Our short-term goal is to try to finish in the top four, to get a bye in the SEC tournament. But that’s not going to make or break our season either if we don’t accomplish that one.”
Holbrook is fine with any criticism he has received in his first season.
“Coach Tanner showed me that when people get mad at us for losing a game or losing a series and people complain, it’s great,” he said. “You hate that people are mad at you, but it’s great that people care. There’s a lot of baseball programs in this country that if you lose a game, no one knows if you lost. We like people to care. We’re thankful that we have a passionate fan base that gives us expectations. That being said, we’ve had some teams go to Omaha that weren’t a national seed. If we’re not a national seed, that’s not a big deal to us. We want to get into the NCAA tournament and play our best. And we’ve shown that if we play our best, we can win. It doesn’t matter if we’re at home. We won a series at LSU. It doesn’t get tougher than that, as far as on the road is concerned.
“You want to play your best baseball at the end of the year. In 1990, Georgia won the national championship, and they went 0-5. They got swept in the last series and they went 0-2 in the SEC tournament and they won the national championship. Is it important to play your best at the end of the season? Yes. But that being said, there’s been some people to do it the hard way. You want your team to start feeling good about itself as the postseason rolls around.”
Some other notes from Holbrook …
** Right fielder and No. 3 hitter (in terms of batting average) Connor Bright continues to deal with a sore right shoulder. He hurt it in the series finale at LSU while diving for a ball. He played in Friday’s Vanderbilt series opener, but not on Saturday, and wasn’t going to play Sunday.
Holbrook is concerned about the injury, though it isn’t a season-ender, and is considering T.J. Costen (the original starting right fielder to begin the season) and Sean Sullivan as replacements if Bright can’t get back for next weekend’s series against Georgia.
“He tried to take BP (on Sunday) and it just was a no-go,” Holbrook said. “I’m hopeful that the treatment they’re giving him will help calm that thing down toward the middle of the week, but it’s a little bit more concerning than it was at this time in the middle of (last) week.
“I think it’s just an impingement (injury to the shoulder). He dove he pinched something back there. They’re going to look at an MRI at the end of the year. It’s nothing that he can’t play with. It’s the pain. It’s nothing that’s structurally unsound. He’s got strength in it. It’s just very, very painful. Pitchers have it from time to time. They’re (USC’s trainers) just kind of diagnosing it as some type of impingement.”
** Holbrook admitted that Vanderbilt’s power arms (and USC’s lack thereof) was “very evident” this weekend. Holbrook is working toward bringing more of those guys to USC, but knows it is not easy.
“We hadn’t had some of (Vanderbilt’s) power arms last year or the year before last year or the year before that either,” he said. “It’s very, very rare that you get … I’ve been on the good side of having a first-rounder turn down $2.9 million. You don’t get Tyler Beedes walking into college campuses much. Vanderbilt has had more than most in regard to power arms. It’s fun to have them, but at the same point in time, we like our guys, too, some pitchability guys (who don’t have overpowering stuff). But we’ve got some power guys coming in that I think can run it up there. That doesn’t guarantee you success.
“But a number of recruits (who USC will have next season) – Canaan Cropper to some of our JUCO kids that are coming in – they can run it up there. There’s all kind of guys that we’ve got coming in that can run it up there 93, 94 mph. I hope they can run it up 93, 94 mph and pitch like (Michael) Roth. I thought we needed some guys that … strikeouts are an important part of our game, and we needed some guys than can strike some people out. We’ve struck a lot of guys out, but a lot of our guys pitch to contact, and when you can strike some people out like (Matt) Price struck people out and Beede strikes people out – when you have guys like that, it doesn’t put much pressure on your defense.
“Power arms are a luxury in college baseball and we hope we can get a few. But yeah, they’ve got more than we do, that’s for sure, from a power arm standpoint. That doesn’t mean we can’t beat them. I told coach Corbin today that I think it’s as complete a college baseball team as I’ve seen. They can do a number of things. They’re a legitimate contender to win the national championship. If we play well, I think we can, too.”