COLUMBIA - Difficult decisions come with losing an early NCAA regional game, none more pressing than how to manage a pitching staff through the impending grind.
South Carolina must win three games in two days to advance to its fifth straight super regional. However, it absolutely must win its game against Campbell 1 p.m. Sunday, or nothing else matters.
Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said he wouldn't look ahead to Maryland, which his team lost to Saturday night.
"I'm trying to win that first game (Sunday)," Holbrook said. "That's what I told the team. I could care less if they ask us to win eight games in a row. We've got to win one game in a row, and then we'll worry about the next one if we can get that done. I don't know any other way to do it."
It's good to take things one game at a time. That doesn't change the overall big picture, or lessen the challenge of winning three regional games in two days.
If South Carolina loses to Campbell on Sunday afternoon or Maryland on Monday afternoon, what difference does it make? It's the same result - a failed attempt to win a regional inside the home ballpark - no matter which game. That fact must be weighed when Holbrook decides how to dole out pitching assignments.
The best pitcher South Carolina has available is freshman Wil Crowe. The hard-throwing right hander is 7-3 this season with a 3.05 ERA, serving as USC's No. 3 starter throughout the season. When Crowe pitches under control, he can be extremely difficult to hit.
Question is, when does Holbrook send him to the mound?
His comments Saturday night made it sound like Crowe will start against Campbell. But the Fighting Camels - who USC beat Friday - are the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Columbia Regional. They sneaked by No. 3 Old Dominion in 12 innings Saturday afternoon, but - and this is key - they only had two hits in the first 10 innings. That's not a lineup that should strike fear into the heart of South Carolina.
Maryland, on the other hand, has shown it's capable of beating USC inside Carolina Stadium. Now, the Gamecocks must beat the Terrapins twice in order to win the regional. Understand, losing one more game against Maryland is the exact same result as losing to Campbell. Either way, a regional championship would have slipped away.
Given that, would it be better to gamble against Campbell and save your best starter available for Maryland? If it were me, that's the direction I would go, but it's a lot easier making that decision in the press box than the dugout. If South Carolina somehow loses to Campbell without Crowe starting on the mound, Holbrook knows heavy criticism would await.
Your call, Coach.