CityWatch: Basketball glory and baseball gloom for Gamecock fans

Dawn Staley Championship parade

University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley at the team’s national championship victory parade in 2017

As March rolls in, two things are happening yet again: (1) the USC women’s basketball team is riding high going into tournament play, and; (2) the USC baseball team is sinking low after another early season series loss to Clemson. 

While we all hope the young women on the court keep their incredible season going and bring home a second national championship in four years, we all fear the young men on the diamond will struggle again after another weak start. 

But let’s not get overconfident about the former or give up on the latter. 

As a coach (and player) of Dawn Staley’s status knows, while her team is ranked No. 1 and has dominated women’s basketball this season, there are other very good teams that could have that tournament run — or that one big game  — that brings USC’s great season to a disappointing finish. 

But I’m sure I speak for all Gamecock women’s basketball fans when I say this: That ain’t gonna happen. 

USC simply has too much, from senior leadership to freshman talent to sophomore/junior depth and experience, for other teams to match up with over the full 40 minutes.

Or so we hope. And believe!

Sadly, I don’t think USC fans believe the baseball team will be in Omaha come June. 

And the start of the 2020 season has done much to make fans feel that way, as in two early series the Gamecocks lost two out of three to Northwestern and two out of three to Clemson. But we did sweep Holy Cross …

If this seems like a far cry (and for some fans that’s getting literal) from the glory days of USC baseball, it is. 

Whether you’re only old enough to remember the Ray Tanner years/teams (including back to back national championships 2010 and 2011, and a third consecutive year in the finals in 2012), or are an old timer who recalls the excitement at Sarge Frye Field when June Raines and Bobby Richardson made USC a baseball power and took numerous teams to Omaha, it’s tough to see the Gamecocks struggle on the diamond.

And it’s especially tough to keep losing to Clemson. 

Sunday’s “one that got away” game (USC led 2-1 in the seventh but lost 5-2) left the Gamecocks the loser in the annual series for five of the past six seasons. Ouch. 

Worse yet, USC’s pitching was self-defeating, as they walked six and hit two Clemson batters, putting eight men on base on free passes. By contrast, Clemson walked two and hit none.  For the series, the Gamecocks issued 16 free passes and committed six errors. That is not winning baseball. 

Coach Mark Kingtson, in his third season at USC, was forthright about his team. He told The State, “We have what we have and those guys are capable. They have to get it done.”

True, but so does he.  

Whatever the Gamecocks are lacking, whether it’s recruiting, execution or just the will to win, Kingston needs to figure it out as USC heads into its tough SEC schedule.  

Last year’s 8-22 conference record left the Gamecocks sitting home at tournament time, and another season like that will have fans calling for the Kingston era to be both short and over. 

But keep in mind, during Kingtson’s first season the team not only had a winning SEC record (17-13) but also made the NCAA tournament, won a Regional and advanced to the championship game of the Super Regional.

That means they fell one win short of getting to Omaha, and that was a year after not making the tournament at all during Chad Holbrook’s final season. So don’t give up on Coach Kingston or Gamecock baseball, it’s way too early for that. 

Forget about Clemson and the weak start, go out to that great stadium, let the team know they have fan support and maybe things will turn around. 

In the meantime, here’s to the Gamecock women and their upcoming run to the NCAA women’s basketball title. Believe!  

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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