By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
South Carolina suffered another bitter defeat in SEC play Saturday, blowing another lead and losing to red-hot Mississippi State 5-4.
For Gamecock players and coaches, the loss was disheartening, frustrating and painful. And maybe those are all good things. Maybe that is just what they need to turn things around.
Maybe the Gamecocks have finally hit rock bottom and are angry enough and frustrated enough and hungry enough to fight their way out of a terrible losing streak.
South Carolina, which started the season ranked No. 4 in the country, has lost seven of its last 10 games and six of eight in SEC play, falling to 21-13 and 7-7 in the conference.
Saturday's loss was typical of how bad things have been lately. The Gamecocks got a great pitching performance from starter Wil Crowe and carried a lead into the late innings. But once again, they self-destructed, making costly errors and not making plays in the field that would have thwarted Mississippi State rallies.
And once again, they couldn't come up with big hits in key situations. They banged out eight hits but left nine men on base. All four runs came on a pair of two-run home runs by freshman Carlos Cortes.
After their third straight loss — and third straight series loss — there was plenty of disappointment and frustration to go around, with head coach Chad Holbrook summing up the feelings of everyone when he said, "My heart has been ripped out of me."
"We're frustrated. We don't like losing like this," infielder LT Tolbert said. "But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to do something about it and make things happen."
Holbrook and his players appeared to be more down than they've been all season after Saturday's loss. Instead of remaining upbeat and putting a positive spin on yet another loss, they were clearly frustrated, disappointed and angry.
Maybe that's what they need. Maybe that's what it will take to shake them up and spark the kind of fire and determination it takes to win in the SEC.
Maybe it's time to stop talking about bad breaks going against you and start making plays, forcing the action and getting hits that spark a rally and create momentum.
Holbrook, who is taking the losses hard, certainly hopes that's the case. He is anxious to see his team start fighting back.
"I'm a big believer that you can feel sorry for yourself and you can think that everything is going against you or you can get determined and make something happen yourself," he said after Saturday's loss. "You have to be tough and you've got to will yourself into making something positive happen, and right now our will is not strong enough to make something positive happen.
"Maybe they are hurting a little bit too much and feeling sorry for themselves too much."
Of South Carolina's 13 losses, 10 have been by one or two runs, including six in SEC play. Those close defeats are taking a toll. Holbrook said after Friday's loss that it's "past time" to be concerned. On Saturday, his players were hanging their heads in the dugout and after the game.
"When things are going against us, we have to have some people step up when our backs are against the wall," Holbrook said. "They don't have the energy that we want to have each and every pitch. But you have to make something happen, you've got to build momentum and create positive energy by what goes on between the white lines. We're not doing enough to create some positive energy right now."
Holbrook tried to create a spark Saturday by shaking up his lineup, benching two starters and overhauling his batting order. It had mixed results, however, with Jacob Olson and Carlos Cortes delivering at the top of the lineup but the middle of the order continuing to struggle. And for the second straight game, the team made uncharacteristic mistakes in the field.
With the losses and frustration mounting, the Gamecocks are on the cusp of seeing their season unravel. They need more than one player to step up. Maybe that sinking feeling is enough to light a spark.
"It sucks," Olson said. "(But) it adds more energy, you get after it."
"Even though it sucks really bad, I know tomorrow they are going to come out with some fire and energy and they are going to want to win a game," Crowe said.
The Gamecocks lost the first two games to Vanderbilt last weekend but rallied on Sunday behind a dominant pitching performance from Adam Hill to win 6-1 and avoid a sweep. That's what they will have to do again this week.
"You have to flush it," Crowe said. "I think a big thing is not to get swept. That's kinda of a motto we have had here at Carolina ever since I have been here. We have an opportunity to not get swept tomorrow and come out and win a ballgame."
That's a start, and maybe the opportunity South Carolina needs to pick itself up and turn things around.