Gamecocks upbeat, realistic No. 15 South Carolina still bullish on contending for another CWS title

Mark Crammer/AP South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook (right) and the Gamecocks had Sunday's game against No. 2 Vanderbilt rained out.

Mark Crammer

C Rough weekend for the South Carolina baseball team. Not only did No. 2 Vanderbilt win twice at Carolina Stadium, the madcap Commodores were significantly funnier than the Gamecocks on Sunday.

Game 3 of the prominent SEC series was canceled, but not before Vanderbilt’s traveling theater thoroughly captivated a small crowd during a steady drizzle. Highlight: Deer hunting skit in which a dozen players pretending to have antlers were “shot” and tied up and carried off the field by teammates.

Clearly, the Commodores are a well-rounded team. Along with acting skills, they have a 21-2 SEC record and an eight-game lead over No. 15 South Carolina in the SEC East.

“They’re a legitimate contender to win the national championship,” first-year South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook said of Vandy.

And …

“And if we play well, we are, too.”

Holbrook remains bullish about South Carolina’s chances of returning to the College World Series for the fourth year in a row. But he also realizes the super regional path might not include Columbia.

With eight regular season games plus the SEC tournament remaining, South Carolina looks solid for one of the 16 regional host spots in the NCAA tournament.

National seed status?

Very bubbly. South Carolina’s official NCAA Ratings Percentage Index rank was No. 8 before Vanderbilt’s three luxury sleeper buses pulled into town.

Maybe the home-road difference is not that big of a deal for a South Carolina team 0-5 in the friendly confines against Arkansas and Vanderbilt but 2-1 at LSU.

“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year,” Holbrook said, “especially with all that’s gone on with our team through the course of the season, that we would be sitting here with a top 15 RPI and have a chance to host a regional and kind of control your own destiny for the next six (SEC) games in regards to accomplishing some of the things you want to accomplish, I would sign up for it in a New York minute.”

Landing a national seed — one of the top eight spots — requires success in SEC series against Georgia and at Mississippi State with no mid-week stumbles against Wofford and Presbyterian.

Holbrook says the Gamecocks’ “short-term goal” is finishing in the top four in the SEC, which guarantees a bye in the SEC tournament and probably a national seed.

“But that’s not going to make or break our season, either,” Holbrook said.

He doesn’t sound afraid of playing in a super regional in Charlottesville or Tallahassee, or Eugene or Corvallis.

“We won the series at LSU,” Holbrook said. “It doesn’t get any tougher than that.”

Complain about inconsistent baseball if you like. Point out the losses to Liberty, Furman and Gardner-Webb.

Compare the Gamecocks’ pitching talent to Vanderbilt.

Holbrook embraces all the great expectations that came with taking over for Ray Tanner, who led South Carolina to College World Series championships in 2010 and 2011 and almost again last summer.

“We’re the University of South Carolina,” Holbrook said. “That’s why our kids play here. Coach Tanner showed me that when people would get mad at us for losing a game or losing a series. People would complain. Great. You hate that people are mad at you, but it’s great that people care.

“There are a lot of baseball programs in this country that when you lose a game, no one knows if you lost. I don’t want that. We like people to care and we’re thankful that we have a passionate fan base.”

Now if the Gamecocks can just come up with a good deer hunting skit, they’ll be fine.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.