Gamecocks baseball maintains lofty goals

South Carolina's Grayson Greiner slides into home on a two-run single by South Carolina's Brison Celek in the fourth inning of their college baseball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, May 22, 2013. At right is Mississippi State's Brandon Woodruff. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

The long, fall months didn't pass quickly enough for Grayson Greiner to forget.

In the batting cage, behind the plate, as temperatures dropped and days shortened, South Carolina's junior catcher thought about what happened June 11. The Gamecocks were so close to a fourth straight appearance in the College World Series . until they weren't. A 5-4 loss to North Carolina signaled an abrupt end.

Greiner stood in the batter's box that day, one runner on base in the ninth inning, needing one run to tie the game. Instead, his groundout ended the season, sending the Tar Heels to Omaha, Neb.

The NCAA super regionals loss prevented a fourth straight trip to the College World Series for the Gamecocks. It also served as motivation for Greiner and his teammates during the monotonous offseason.

"It's something that, obviously, we're not going to forget," Greiner said. "If we see those guys again, it will be in the back of our mind. But, it's a clean slate. It's a new year. Every team is 0-0 now. We're just ready for that first game on Valentine's Day. That's what we're working toward.

"I think any time you play for South Carolina's baseball team, the expectations are very high. We made it to one game shy of Omaha last year, and we felt like we let down tens of thousands of people. That was a hard burden to hold on our shoulders. But it's a new year."

There is no questioning the determination South Carolina's baseball team carried into the weekend as it began spring practices with two open scrimmages.

The Gamecocks open their season Feb. 14 with the first of three games against Bucknell at Carolina Stadium.

South Carolina isn't scheduled to have a rematch with North Carolina during the regular season. Still, the Gamecocks hope to return to that stage this June.

"Around here, our players know what the expectations are," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "I think they embrace the expectations. Yeah, it was a disappointing end. We were one run, one out, one play from making it back to the College World Series for the fourth year in a row. It didn't happen. I hope there's a bitter taste in their mouth. I think there is."

Holbrook embraced the high expectations for his team. He doesn't necessarily make it a frequent discussion among his players.

As long as the offseason can feel, the regular season isn't exactly a sprint. Before thinking about June, South Carolina must play more than 50 games. Holbrook said his team isn't taking any of them lightly.

"We talk about being the best we can be today," Holbrook said. "Play the best you can today. Improve the best you can today. Work as hard as you can today. Hopefully, come June, it will be good enough. One of Coach (Ray) Tanner's best teams went 50-6 here and didn't make it to the College World Series. It's not life or death.

"That being said, the kids want to compete for a national championship, and they work extremely hard to do so. But I don't want the pressure of thinking it's a successful or unsuccessful season just based on that one goal. Is it our goal? Yes, but I don't think that's going to determine whether or not we've had a tremendous year."