South Carolina coach Ray Tanner was always particularly hard on his second baseman, Scott Wingo.
"I remember thinking, 'Man, this kid never gets a break,' " said former South Carolina shortstop Bobby Haney, who played with Wingo in 2009 and 2010.
Before last year's NCAA tournament, Wingo was once so much in Tanner's crosshairs that he kicked him out of practice. Wingo kind of mouthed off to an assistant coach, Tanner heard him -- and he told Wingo to get lost.
Subsequently, Wingo was on the bench when last year's NCAA regional began. He bounced back.
What has happened since then, has been pure fairy tale for the modestly sized and talented Mauldin High School product. That started in June 2010, when Wingo touched home plate with the run to seal USC's first major national championship.
His teammates voted for him in the offseason to be one of their captains.
Last week, Wingo was named the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player after the Gamecocks defended their national title.
In his final year at USC, Wingo hit .338, second best on the team, and led the Gamecocks with a .467 on-base percentage. He was involved in scores of double plays this season, including the nine that USC turned in the College World Series.
Tanner's tough love, it sure seems, paid off.
"Yeah," Haney said, laughing, "you could say that."
As a senior, Wingo dedicated himself to becoming a better offensive player. A guy who was lodged in the bottom third of the order -- he was a .226 hitter his first three seasons -- Wingo's ability to hit to all fields suddenly made him a viable option batting second.
Wingo already knew how to get on base, considering he was the school's record-holder for hit by pitches as a junior. His bat was a bonus, though.
It not only emerged, but was key at times. He engineered three walk-off wins
during the regular season. He had RBI singles to beat Georgia and Auburn, and his solo home run in the bottom of the ninth defeated Arkansas on May 15.
Wingo hit a team-best .382 (42 for 110) in 30 SEC games.
He saved one more walk-off moment for Omaha, too. His single off the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth scored Robert Beary to defeat Texas A&M 5-4 in the team's CWS opener.
Mind you, USC had not won an opener in Omaha since 1977 (0-7).
Turns out, Wingo was the right guy to have at the plate.
"I knew the game was over," said third baseman Adrian Morales, once recruited to replace Wingo. "It was just a matter of how he was going to win it."
Michael Roth, for one, has enjoyed watching the evolution of Wingo. He played with him during their high school years and arrived at USC a year after Wingo.
"It's honestly insane," said Roth, the team's top pitcher. "He struggled when he got to college, like everyone's supposed to. But his work ethic never faltered. His mindset never faltered.
"He was still the same Scott Wingo, whether he was hitting .190 or .390. You could never tell what he was hitting. This year, something clicked."
Silly as it might have sounded even a year ago, the team is not quite sure where it would have been in 2011 without Wingo's contributions at the plate.
"Without Scott this year, we might not have made it to the postseason," Roth said. "He carried our team for a long time. We wouldn't be SEC (regular season) champions, because he won three SEC games.
"He stepped up as a leader. Being a captain with him, it's been special, to see how he's gone from being just another guy and second baseman to a star."
Wingo is part country boy, part Peter Pan. He's says the words "shoot" and "dang" all the time, and he seems to have no interest in growing up.
No matter how well or poorly he's played this game, he seems to never lose sight of the fact that it's a game.
"He's having fun," Tanner said. "Sometimes he takes more ground balls than he should, but he's having fun doing it. That's the kind of guy you want. (He is) going to play hard and love what they're doing."
He'll take that spirit to the minor leagues now. Never drafted previously, the Los Angeles Dodgers took Wingo in the 11th round of this year's draft. He'll sign and report in the next few weeks.
Tanner was always particularly hard on his second baseman. Now he's trying to picture an infield without Wingo.
"Scott Wingo is the epitome of what our program is all about, and I know I'm going to miss him," Tanner said Tuesday, just after the team won its second CWS title. "I told him a few minutes ago he's really going to miss me come next fall."
A smile crept across Tanner's face. He looked at Wingo, to his right, and chuckled.
"He might not miss some of the things I did to him, but he's been great," Tanner said. "He's been great for four years."