COLUMBIA — At South Carolina, the time for reflection is over. And the source of motivation has shifted from how the last baseball season ended, to how the impending one begins.
The two-time national champions began practice for the 2015 campaign on Friday, and the Gamecocks can’t afford to waste a day — not with College of Charleston, fresh off an NCAA Super Regional appearance, coming to Carolina Stadium for a season-opening three-game set in three weeks. USC felt urgency in fall ball because of the disappointing finish to the 2014 season, and they feel it now with first pitch against the Cougars looming closer every minute.
“Playing the College of Charleston has got our players’ attention,” said South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook, whose Gamecocks open against the College at 4 p.m. on Feb. 13.
“They have a great program, they have a great team coming back. Our guys know that. And I think that’s affected, a little bit, their motivation. Not only the way last year ended, but also the opponent we need to play next. If they’re not working hard, or don’t have a sense of motivation, or don’t have the adrenalin going each and every day they’re down here, I have the wrong guys.”
No worries, Coach. “You could tell when we came back from Christmas break, there was a sense of urgency,” said infielder Max Schrock. “Everyone was like, it’s business time now. The season’s right around the corner, and we’re all looking forward to it.”
South Carolina is coming off a 44-18 season in which the Gamecocks were eliminated in a home NCAA Regional for the first time since 1976, and failed to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time in eight seasons. USC returns 11 pitchers and six position players, and has been ranked as high as No. 5 in one preseason poll despite key losses at catcher, closer and one weekend starter.
“I think that’s a bit of a stretch,” Holbrook said. “We’re not the fifth-best team in the country in January. I can assure you as we sit here right now, that’s not who we are.”
Against the College of Charleston, they may find out quickly. The Cougars went 44-19 last season, won the NCAA Gainesville Regional as a No. 4 seed, and lost a pair of 1-0 games at Texas Tech in the Super Regional. Ranked 25th in one preseason poll, the Cougars will arrive in Columbia with their top two starting pitchers and six position starters from last season.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think we’re going to have a few bumps in the road early in the year. We’re trying to replace a Friday guy, an All-American catcher, an All-American closer, a standout in the infield. It’s not going to be a smooth transition, probably. We’re going to have to learn who we are, and there’s no way to learn quicker than to play a great opponent, which we have,” Holbrook said.
“We’ll learn a lot about our team opening weekend. But at the same time, opening weekend’s not going to make or break our season. But we’ll learn who we are, for sure.”