COLUMBIA - Through the rigors of a long season, South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner was everything his team needed him to be.
Back in February, Greiner spoke in the preseason about crouching behind home plate every inning if he had to. The junior knew he would take a beating. He was ready for a marathon.
Greiner couldn't have played better through the season's first three months. At one point, he led South Carolina in six major batting categories - average, slugging, on-base, RBIs, home runs and doubles.
In what amounted to his best season at South Carolina, Greiner batted .311 with 50 RBIs, 39 runs, eight home runs and 13 doubles in 58 starts. (Greiner only had two more starts this season than last, but last season's 56 starts were more spaced out because the season went one week longer.) He had a .389 on-base percentage and .486 slugging. These were good numbers, but not long ago Greiner was on pace for much better.
Sometime near the end of the season, Greiner hit a wall.
Technically, his slump started before the end of the regular season. On May 9, South Carolina beat Missouri in the first game of what would become a sweep. Greiner went to bed that night red hot, batting .349.
That was the last time this season he would have multiple hits in a game. In the final 12 games of the spring, he was held to one hit or less.
Greiner's decline was most starkly highlighted at the NCAA Columbia Regional. The junior was 1-for-14 at the plate with three strikeouts and no RBIs. Adding the SEC tournament in Hoover, Greiner finished 2-for-20 with six strikeouts and no RBIs in the postseason.
Unprompted, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook came to Greiner's defense after the Gamecocks bowed out of the regional against Maryland.
"I think catching a lot of the season kind of caught up with him late, as far as his offense and swinging the bat," Holbrook said. "He won't admit to it, but I could see the wear and tear on him. It's a tough position to play. I wish I could've given him a little bit more rest, but if I did I don't think we're in a regional."
Holbrook said Greiner was dealing with a battered thumb, the by-product of catching so many innings. Clearly, the sore thumb affected his swing.
Not coincidentally, Greiner's collapse mirrored South Carolina's postseason struggles. The Gamecocks combined to finish 2-4 in the SEC tournament and Columbia Regional. If you want to understand the true value Greiner had to this South Carolina team, look no further than that.
None of this is to diminish Greiner or the season he put together. The junior catcher will be swept away in the first three rounds of the MLB Draft on Thursday.
If anything, this is about the difficult position Holbrook faced this season. Imagine overplaying your best player, and know you're doing it, but being unable to find a suitable alternative. With injuries ravaging South Carolina's roster, Holbrook had legitimate fear his team would fall short of the postseason. He needed Greiner's production in the lineup, and his leadership behind the plate. He hoped Greiner's body would hold up.
In the end, it did not.
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