By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
HOOVER, Ala. — Chad Holbrook admitted earlier this week that his South Carolina team had not won enough games and played well enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
Now? Well, he's feeling better about his chances and believes that maybe, just maybe, his Gamecocks might have a chance.
South Carolina finished the regular season at 32-23, 13-17 in the SEC, after losing eight straight conference series. Conventional wisdom dictates that it would either have to win the SEC Tournament, or at least win three games, to have a shot at making the postseason, a prospect that seemed like a remote possibility entering the tournament in Hoover, Ala. this week.
But suddenly, after three says of the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks look like a much different team — one with confidence and hope.
South Carolina has won two games — their first tournament wins under Holbrook and the first time since 2007 they have won multiple games in Hoover. They play Kentucky in an elimination game Friday with a chance to win a third game and reach the semi-finals.
With the way the season has gone for South Carolina, which lost ace pitcher Clarke Schmidt to Tommy John surgery and two other starters to season-ending injuries, Holbrook is happy with the way his team has bounced back.
"The things that have been thrown at my team this year, no one has faced the adversity that we have faced, from an injury standpoint, from losing our best player from a pitching standpoint, or losing our All-American closer," Holbrook said after beating Missouri 10-2 Thursday.
"So to see my team come down here and catch their breath, play the way they are capable of playing is very satisfying to me. That being said, we have some more baseball to play and we want to keep winning, and we have a team that is capable of winning."
After winning a thrilling, 11-inning opening game against Vanderbilt, South Carolina fell to Kentucky 7-2 Wednesday. It bounced back strong against Missouri Thursday, hitting four home runs to win two of three SEC games for the first time since early April.
Holbrook called the performance Thursday "refreshing" and began to wonder if his team might be able to play its way into the postseason after all.
"You never know. At least we are in the conversation, probably," he said. "Maybe across the nation all the favorites win the conference tournaments and there will be no surprises and we can slide in there. Who knows?
"I know this, no matter what happens, I don't think anybody would want us in their regional the way we are playing right now and the way we are swinging the bats."
South Carolina has scored 19 runs in its three games and hit seven home runs, giving it 57 for the season, the most in the BBCORE era. It pounded out 14 hits Thursday against Missouri.
Holbrook is even starting to campaign for his team, which has won three of its last four SEC games after ending the regular season with a 10-0 win over Georgia.
"I don't need get on my soapbox and make excuses. (But) we have had a lot thrown at us, and it's satisfying to see us play the way we are playing right now," he said. "It might be too little, too late. It might not be.
"If we are lucky enough to get into the NCAA Tournament, we will be a tough out the way that we are playing now, and I think the toughness that we have shown with all the adversity we have faced, it's a little bit tougher group than we were probably at the mid-point of the season."
Holbrook said he is not following the other conference tournaments or keeping up with projections on what his team has to do to get into the NCAA Tournament.
"It will drive you crazy and you can't worry about things that you can't control," he said. "I am just going to worry about my team and play as good as we can play and see what happens. If anybody deserves a little good fortune, it would be us with all that we have faced. We'll worry about ourselves and our game (today) and try to play some really good ball."