WIN OR GO HOME …
The University of South Carolina baseball team is one loss away from missing out on NCAA postseason action for only the second time in the last eighteen years. In fact, they’ll need to make a deep run in this week’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament in Hoover, Alabama in order to qualify for an NCAA postseason bid.
Meanwhile their embattled head coach may need such a run in order to save his job.
The Gamecocks (31-23, 13-17 SEC) ended a lackluster 2017 regular season on a positive note Saturday – blanking Georgia 10-0 on the strength of junior Jonah Bride’s three-hit afternoon. Meanwhile freshman starting pitcher Colby Lee combined with relievers Colie Bowers, Tyler Johnson and Graham Lawson in limiting Georgia’s entire offense to just three hits on the afternoon.
But South Carolina still lost the series to Georgia – marking its eighth straight series defeat against a conference opponent.
No wonder the Gamecock fan base is up in arms, right?
Nonetheless, embattled head coach Chad Holbrook sounded an optimistic tone as the Gamecocks’ thoroughly disappointing regular season drew to a merciful close.
“I’m proud of my players for a lot of reasons,” Holbrook said. “When you’re in this business a long time, sometimes you lose some heartbreakers and some tough games. Some of the goals you set forth aren’t going to be realized in the regular season.”
That’s an understatement …
South Carolina began this year ranked No. 4 in the nation – with Gamecock fans expecting to build on last season’s 46-18 record (Holbrook’s best mark since taking the reins of the program following the 2012 season).
Now Holbrook has one last chance to quiet the masses calling for his head.
“We’ll turn our attention to Hoover,” he said after the season-ending win over Georgia. “It’s a do or die situation. We’ll go down there and see if we can get on a little bit of a hot streak. You never know. We’re going to keep breathing and keep playing, scratching and clawing until the last out is made. No reason we can’t go down there and get on a little bit of a roll and put ourselves back in the conversation. That’s going to be our mindset when we leave on Monday.”
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When Holbrook inherited the program from former head coach (and current South Carolina athletics director) Ray Tanner following the 2012 season, the Gamecocks had appeared in three consecutive College World Series finals – winning championships in 2010 and 2011.
They haven’t been back since, though. In fact they failed to qualify for postseason play in 2015 – the first time that had happened in a decade-and-a-half.
“The analogy I keep hearing is that he was handed to keys to a golden Cadillac and proceeded to drive it off a cliff,” one longtime South Carolina fan told us.
Until recently, this website has consistently defended Holbrook – arguing his program was positioning itself for a return to national prominence.
“We fully expect Holbrook to reorient the trajectory of the program given the talent he’s brought in … as well as some of the stars he’s already landed for the 2015 class,” we wrote back in 2014.
We defended Holbrook again last April – attributing his success on the recruiting trail to last season’s turnaround.
“The young talent he recruited is paying dividends, and South Carolina is well-positioned for a return to postseason success,” we noted a year ago.
Postseason success didn’t materialize last season, though, and this season the wheels have fallen off.
Back in mid-April, we asked our readers whether they thought Holbrook should be fired as South Carolina’s head coach. Their answer at the time? “Yes.” Overwhelmingly. Out of 705 votes cast, 516 respondents (74 percent) said Holbrook should be fired. Meanwhile only 189 respondents (26 percent) said the fifth-year coach should keep his job.
Today, we’re posing the same question again … although this time we are giving readers the option of choosing “unsure” as their response.
Should the University of South Carolina fire head baseball coach Chad Holbrook?
Will Tanner heed the hashtag drumbeat and #FireHolbrook in the event South Carolina is bounced early from the SEC tournament?
Ordinarily we’d say yes, but the fifth-year athletics director – who recently received a three-year contract extension and a hefty raise – has consistently voiced support for Holbrook this season. In late April, Tanner said Holbrook needed to “stay the course” and that eventually his program would “get some of those close ones back.”
Again, so far that hasn’t happened.
South Carolina opens SEC tournament play as the 11th seed in the conference. They will play sixth-seeded Vanderbilt with first pitch scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 23. That game – like the rest of the tourney – will be televised nationally on the SEC Network.
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Banner via @GamecockBasebll