COLUMBIA - The rain outside was a perfect illustration for the mood inside South Carolina's clubhouse early in the 2010 postseason.
The Gamecocks trailed Bucknell by four runs in the 2010 NCAA regionals. It was a shocking deficit, highlighting a potentially devastating late-season collapse. South Carolina had lost the SEC regular-season title to Florida on its home field, then bowed out of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Things were going the wrong direction, and fast.
"Tensions were high," coach Chad Holbrook admits now.
So it should be no surprise tempers flared after falling behind Bucknell, a surprise team from the Northeast. To pass time during a rain delay, Holbrook recalled a "door-slamming contest" he had with former coach Ray Tanner.
He also remembers winning the contest after slamming his door "a little bit louder" than Tanner, though that memory may be shaded by perspective.
Their players put the rain delay to better use. Somewhere in the commotion, reserve outfielder Robert Beary taped a baseball to a fungo bat. Alas, the Avatar Spirit Stick came to life, and magic came next.
"They had a meeting of the minds in there and came up with the Spirit Stick," Holbrook said, "and we won a lot of NCAA Tournament games in a row after that. It's kind of weird how it worked."
Holbrook smiled as he remembered the origins of South Carolina's unofficial inspiration during its 2010 national championship run. Fitting, perhaps, that the Gamecocks will experience a little déjà vu as they open the 2014 season.
South Carolina will host Bucknell for a season-opening doubleheader beginning noon Saturday at Carolina Stadium. It will be the first time the Gamecocks play the Bison since their 9-5 win in the opening game of the 2010 regionals. Once again, the program is trying to erase some bitter feelings after falling short of Omaha for the first time in four seasons last June.
There's even been inclement weather, just like in 2010.
South Carolina's season was delayed almost 24 hours because of a snow storm that ripped through Columbia this week. The weather delayed Bucknell's departure from its central Pennsylvania campus. It also created exhaustive work for South Carolina's grounds crew, which worked feverishly - almost around the clock - to turn the diamond into playing condition.
"Our ground crew, and the coaches too, they've all been out there working today and yesterday," junior Joey Pankake said. "It's come a long ways. I think it will be looking good (Saturday)."
The pressure this weekend will be nothing like it was in 2010, when South Carolina's season was on the brink. Still, Holbrook hopes Saturday has one more thing in common with that memorable NCAA regional comeback.
Like then, he hopes these home games against Bucknell will be the beginning of a path that ends at the College World Series in Omaha. Maybe a little magic will follow.
"It is the University of South Carolina. We know what's expected around here," Holbrook said. "We always want to compete for championships, and compete for a shot at the national championship and get to Omaha, Neb. That's what our goals are.
"I used to not talk about a national championship much, but I've been fortunate to be on two teams that's won them, so all the sudden we're expected to compete for that around here now."
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