COLUMBIA - There were restless nights and swirling thoughts as Chad Holbrook lay in bed one year ago, wondering what life would be like as South Carolina's head baseball coach.
There were butterflies. Entering a new role with the program where he'd spent four seasons as associate head coach, there were plenty of nerves. Holbrook faced the unknown. He was confident, prepared. But he didn't know exactly what to expect.
Of course, the new coach led a successful maiden season by almost any standard. The uneasiness is gone now. As South Carolina enters its second season under Holbrook, the program has maintained stability.
The Gamecocks went as far as the super regionals last summer, their 11th trip in the past 14 seasons. Now, Holbrook wants to take the program one step further.
"I'm getting a little bit more sleep at this time of year than I was last year," Holbrook said. "My heart's racing a little bit slower pace than it did at this time last year. With that being said, we have some huge challenges in front of us."
It's hard to tell what's different for South Carolina's baseball team in the second season with Holbrook at the helm. Third baseman Joey Pankake said the coach has never changed, whether he was helping direct former coach Ray Tanner's program or calling the shots himself.
But there is a certain steadiness that comes with knowing what to expect. Pankake has felt it this preseason.
"I feel like we've all really settled in," third baseman Joey Pankake said. "It was his first year, and we were kind of wound up, I guess. This year, we kind of settled down, settle in."
South Carolina will open its 2014 season with a doubleheader against Bucknell beginning noon Saturday at Carolina Stadium. The season opener originally scheduled for Friday was postponed one day because of winter weather in Columbia.
It was only a one-day delay. For the Gamecocks, the extra wait could feel unbearable.
Since bowing out to North Carolina in the final game of the super regionals in June, South Carolina has been on a mission. It returned the core of its potent batting lineup, along with top pitcher Jordan Montgomery, for what it expects to be another College World Series appearance.
"We definitely take it as a chip on our shoulder," Montgomery said of the loss to North Carolina. "We'll remember that once that time comes around. I feel like we're more prepared this year already. We're a little tougher. We'll just see what the season unveils."
Outside expectations couldn't be higher for USC, which won national championships in 2010 and '11, and finished national runner-up in 2012.
The Gamecocks were picked to win the loaded SEC by league coaches this year. They're ranked No. 7 nationally by Baseball America. It's a sign of what may come this season, and catcher Greyson Greiner is ready to find out whether his team can once again meet expectations.
"We've got the team to be where we want to be at the end of the year," Greiner said. "We've got a good mix of older guys and younger guys. The hard work we put in, in the offseason, we've grown closer as a team. We just want to get the right 35 guys out there. It's going to take all 35 guys to win every game."
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