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 COUNTDOWN TO KICK-OFF "2019" GAMECOCK FOOTBALL

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ShepCock

Q&A: Fans discuss state of Gamecock baseball

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By JOE MCLEAN  | 06/25/2019

 

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Not long ago the Gamecocks were at the top of the college baseball world. They won back-to-back College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011, and were one game away from a three-peat in 2012. Before that, they were a postseason staple in college baseball, consistently hosting regional and super regional games at Founders Park. 

 

However, when Ray Tanner left the dugout to become the school's athletic director, success has not been so easy. The Gamecocks have only been to the postseason four times in the last seven seasons, and have yet to return to Omaha, the site of the College World Series, despite being one game away in 2018. 

 

In addition, they have had two head coaches in that time frame, Chad Holbrook and Mark Kingston. In 2019, the Gamecocks were 8-22 in SEC play, their worst conference record since joining the SEC in 1992, which is a far cry from what the program was in the 2000s and early 2010s. 

 

The Daily Gamecock, in the third of a three-part Q&A series, interviewed University of South Carolina alumni Ted Hyman and Clarke Lindsay; University of South Carolina students Patrick DeMarre, fourth-year broadcast journalism student; Noah Diveley, fourth-year sport and entertainment management student; and Francis Marion University alumna and Gamecock fan Hope Nye about the current state of the South Carolina baseball program and what needs to happen for the team to return to winning championships. 

 

Q: Given the high expectations for the baseball program, what went wrong in 2019?

 

TH: "The pitching staff just obviously didn't have the arms at all to compete in the SEC this season. I don't think that's Kingston's fault as he hasn't been here long enough to have his own pitchers and stuff recruited in the program." 

 

HN: "I think a lot of it was mental. When they were losing games, they just mentally weren't there in a lot of them after seeing how many games they were starting to lose ... I think [the Georgia series] was a shock to the players, along with the fans ... that was hard for me to watch too."

 

CL: "There were a ton of injuries. I'm not making an excuse ... we had a lot of young guys playing."  

 

Q: With fans considering baseball to be the premier athletic program at South Carolina, what should be the expectations going forward, despite a disappointing season with a second year head coach? 

 

CL: Our goal is [to go to] Omaha every single year, and if you don't believe that, don't come. I'm dead serious. Don't watch Carolina baseball. I don't care, because if your goal isn't Omaha every single year, then you don't have a pulse, man. That's Carolina baseball." 

 

PD: "Well I would say this year is a very big year for Coach Kingston. I think he needs to have a much more successful season next time around. It can make or break him essentially. Maybe we don't see him after 2020 if we don't have a better season." 

 

Q: What needs to happen to change the team's fortunes from the past season and to meet the expectations?  

 

HN: "Mark Kingston has only been here for two years. I'm not gonna question what he does either. I think he's doing the same thing as the other coaches and getting out there and recruiting players. There's no way that I would put him down at this point when he's only been here for two seasons, and the first season he almost got us to Omaha. There's no way I would question anything with him." 

 

ND: "The fans need to get behind the team more. I didn't go to that many games towards the end of the season because it was hard to watch. But Kingston ... his recruiting is getting up there. Baseball recruiting cycles are longer than most sports, so a lot of fans don't realize how long it takes to get his players in the program. If we can just stay behind the team and be there for the student athletes, and push them, I think that will be a big step in the right direction for next year." 

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Great post, ShepCock!

 

With new staffs, there's a lot to consider - especially with the Gamecocks. Not obsessing too much on the Holbrook regime or what state he left the program in, the SEC in college baseball is a totally different animal. People talk about it and can point to the dominant numbers, but unless you've spent time coaching, recruiting, and competing in the conference, you really don't understand.

 

Tanner spent his time at USC during the SEC's ascension to its current level of dominance. Holbrook came out of the ACC like Tanner originally did, but spent years under Tanner as his top recruiter, and learned about the SEC during those years. When he took over for Tanner, he essentially kept Tanner's longtime staff intact.

 

But Kingston and his staff have yet to get that kind of seasoning. Only Stuart Lake has any past experiences in the SEC, of the current staff. But they will learn how to compete by fire, in both the recruitment, the player development, and in competing on the diamond game in and out. The SEC field is comparable in it's top-to-bottom competitiveness to only the field of eight in Omaha, and often is able to surpass even that level.

 

Last season the Gamecock pitching staff was young and inexperienced, due to lack of depth and the further exasperation of injury. But IMO, had our staff been able to survive 2019 fully intact and healthy, we would've won a few more games - perhaps another SEC series or two - but the team overall wouldn't have been a strong team. We thought we had potential despite the pitching losses before the SEC season began, but once that started, it was like walking into a wheat thrasher. It is just a different animal.

 

To add my answer to the final question posed above, the staff needs to overhaul the personnel quickly, and looks to be attempting just that. They are bringing in loads of quality JUCO talent to improve the maturity and experience of the roster. But JUCOs are still not much closer to SEC caliber baseball than high schools, so there's still a major learning curve.

 

The staff needs to balance the influx of JUCOs with well-evaluated prep talent, because JUCOs usually only last in a program for a year, while kids out of high school can develop and contribute for 3 years before moving on at the earliest. And balance that talent so the younger kids out of high school don't get buried by those JUCOs, and feel they are getting recruited over and are losing their opportunities, or they will transfer out and become JUCOs themselves. But use the JUCOs to bridge the program to where a solid core group of talent is developed and experienced, and then start relying on that core group more year after year, while leaving any future JUCO presence to only bolstering depth where needed.

 

It looks like this staff is trying that approach, so we'll see if it works toward getting us back to being a competitive program in the SEC again, where we belong....

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