COLUMBIA - Even at the shocking conclusion, with reality washing over him in a wave of frustration, Kyle Martin couldn't hang his head.
South Carolina's junior first baseman thought about the struggles this season. He talked about how his team overcame adversity time after time, never willing to succumb to bad luck. His mind traced back to the small victories, how the Gamecocks would bounce back from slumps, how they adjusted to all the injuries.
"I feel like we did a good job," Martin said. "We had a lot of players out during the season. We battled as a team, and we fought through injuries and things like that. Toward the end we came together, and we got everybody back in the lineup. I felt like this season overall was very strong."
Of course, Martin's assessment was on the mark. By almost any program's standards, 2014 was successful. The Gamecocks won 42 regular-season games - most in the SEC - and hosted their fifth straight NCAA regional. They've now gone 15 straight years without falling short of the 40-win mark.
South Carolina's accomplishments came despite adversity that would derail many teams. Injuries shook the Gamecocks to their core. It would have been easy to quit fighting. South Carolina never did.
"There was a point in time this season where I was worried about making the postseason - to be quite honest with you - when we were scuffling so bad we could barely field a team," South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook admitted late Sunday night. "I'm proud of my players. I'm proud of my team."
Yet, Holbrook has been around long enough to understand the context. South Carolina isn't like every other program. The Gamecocks are a cut above. They play for tangible goals, starting with championships.
A long postseason run could have made 2014 one of the more memorable seasons in the history of this proud program. The lack of titles - from conference to regional and beyond - makes South Carolina's season of conquering adversity easily forgettable.
"It was a good season," Holbrook said, "but good is not good enough around here. I understand that. We've got to do better than good, and that's going to be the attitude here as long as I'm the coach. South Carolina baseball is a special program."
The Gamecocks have a rough week ahead.
For the first time in five years, their season ended before the first week of June. There will be no College World Series, or even a chance to play for a berth in Omaha. Instead, Holbrook and his staff will brace for the MLB Draft on Thursday, knowing South Carolina's core junior class is about to be splintered.
That doesn't mean the Gamecocks will lower their expectations next spring. Rebuild isn't in the vocabulary. There is enough talent returning for South Carolina to reload, to keep its sights set on a third national title since 2010. Sophomore second baseman Max Schrock could be the program's next superstar. Freshman Wil Crowe and sophomore Jack Wynkoop will comprise one of the SEC's more formidable pitching rotations.
But next year's team won't be this group. For catcher Grayson Greiner, third baseman Joey Pankake, ace Jordan Montgomery and closer Joel Seddon, the journey ends short of a national championship. Even with his pride, it was hard for Holbrook to digest the bitter end.
"Am I proud of my team? Yes," he said. "Our players gave me all they had. They gave me everything I asked. There's some good kids in that locker room that are hurting, but they understand. At South Carolina, good is not good enough. It was a good season, but we've got to do better."
South Carolina’s bitterly quick end to its spring brings context. It was a good 2014 season, but coach Chad Holbrook said good is not good enough. Alyssa Schukar/AP×
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