COLUMBIA - In the dim light outside Carolina Stadium's media room, one coach waited as the other passed by.
Chad Holbrook could have kept walking, retreating to the privacy of South Carolina's locker room. He turned to face John Szefc instead. In a corner, standing eye to eye, Holbrook shook Szefc's hand and congratulated him. He told Maryland's second-year coach his team was a deserving regional champion. The Terrapins had given the Gamecocks all they could handle - and then more.
Here, in the dimly lit hallway, was the official passing of the torch.
"I was extremely impressed with them," Holbrook said. "That (center fielder Charlie) White kid is a special player. I love LaMonte Wade, what an athletic first baseman he is. They had athletes running around that field out there. . They have arms, they're physical, they're athletic. They were very impressive to me."
White and Wade made the all-NCAA Columbia Regional team. White also was named the regional's most outstanding player. They played at a high level all weekend, but there have been other athletic players in previous years. Great teams have played the Gamecocks at Carolina Stadium in the postseason, and they didn't do what Maryland accomplished.
South Carolina had won 13 straight home regionals before Sunday. The last time it lost an NCAA regional at home was 1976. The program is now 17-2 in postseason games played at Carolina Stadium. The two losses came against Maryland.
What made the Terrapins different than the worthy opponents of the past?
"That's a really good question," Szefc said when asked Sunday night. "I'm not sure I really have a sound answer for that. I'm sure probably some teams have been here that probably had more talent than we have. I guess one thing I can tell you is we just have some tough kids."
Over three days last week, Maryland's toughness transferred from blind faith to surprising dominance. When Szefc learned South Carolina hadn't lost a home postseason game since 2002, he smiled and mentioned how fun it would be to "mess that up." It could have felt like an impossible task. Szefc never let his team feel that way. He said the pressure of the streak was on the Gamecocks, not his players.
Szefc also talked about the obvious, that nobody expected Maryland to beat South Carolina in Columbia. He was right, of course. Early on, the Terrapins' bold bravado was met with eye rolls and little faith. By the time Holbrook shook Szefc's hand late Sunday night, that confidence had been justified.
"This is not a very easy place to play," Szefc said of Carolina Stadium. "I coached at a lot of different SEC places, I've been in nine NCAA regionals, and this is by far probably one of the top two toughest atmospheres I've ever coached in. The people here at South Carolina are tremendous as far as the regional they put on. The atmosphere to play here is very difficult, a very hostile environment.
"In order to be successful here, you have to have very good players and very tough players, very resilient guys. That's exactly what we have, and we're very fortunate that we have a group that is as resilient as it is."
Both coaches independently agreed on the defining play Sunday.
In the fourth inning, South Carolina pitcher Joel Seddon tried to work himself out of a jam. Maryland had placed runners on second and third with no outs, but Seddon was one strike from getting out of the inning unscathed. It was the type of strike South Carolina always got, through two national championship runs and four straight trips to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Instead, shortstop Blake Schmit hit a 0-2 pitch into left field for a two-RBI single that gave Maryland a 2-1 lead. South Carolina never led again.
"He made a mistake there, and the shortstop hit that ball in the six-hole that put them ahead," Holbrook said. "I think that was the big swing of the bat that turned the momentum in their favor. If we would've gotten out of that jam, maybe some momentum would've come to our dugout, and we would've gotten excited about swinging the bats a little bit."
South Carolina never did build momentum last weekend. Instead, its season reached an untimely end. Maryland will travel to Charlottesville, Va., this weekend to play Virginia in the super regionals.
The Gamecocks will watch from home, knowing indeed all streaks eventually meet their end.
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