Fans of the University of South Carolina baseball program – which has been in a state of perpetual decline after reaching the pinnacle of the sport a decade ago – are hoping that a solid 2020 recruiting class will help their team reorient its fortunes in the years to come.
According to Baseball America, the Gamecocks have the No. 6 incoming recruiting class in the nation – trailing No. 1 Miami, LSU, Vanderbilt, Arizona and Florida.
South Carolina is one of ten schools from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) to land in the Top 25 recruiting rankings – which were paced by a non-SEC team for the first time in nine years.
The last time a non-SEC squad boasted the No. 1 recruiting class? Stanford … in 2010.
Ironically, that was the year the Gamecocks won the first of two consecutive national championships under former head coach (and current South Carolina athletics director) Ray Tanner.
Since Tanner stepped down to become athletics director in 2012, though, the baseball program has experienced an ignominious decline.
The plunge began with Tanner’s hand-picked successor, Chad Holbrook, who resigned under pressure following a disastrous 2017 season and (controversially) took a job at the College of Charleston.
How has that worked out for the Cougars? Eh …
In 2019, the Gamecocks suffered through their worst season in a quarter century – posting a disappointing 28-28 overall record and an atrocious 8-22 mark against conference opponents. That was the program’s worst conference mark since joining the SEC in 1992 and its worst overall mark since 1996.
This spring’s team posted a 12-4 record (including a series loss to arch-rival Clemson) before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hopefully Covid-19 will be a memory by the time February 2021 rolls around …
All told, head coach Mark Kingston has posted a 77-58 mark during his two-and-a-half seasons in Columbia, S.C. (including a 25-35 conference record). His only postseason appearance took place in 2018, when the Gamecocks were bounced from the NCAA super regional by Arkansas.
South Carolina used to be a fixture in the postseason, earning fifteen consecutive appearances between 2000-2014. That run included College World Series (CWS) championships in 2010 and 2011 and runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2012.
The Gamecocks have not made it back to Omaha since … and have missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament in three of the last five completed seasons.
This year’s recruiting class – led by Alek Boychuk, Magdiel Cotto, Jackson Phipps, Will Sanders, Josh Shuler and Jalen Vasquez – hopes to get things moving in the right direction again. And for Kingston’s sake, they will have to …
While the pandemic has obviously bought some time for coaches on the hot seat, Kingston needs to start winning … and soon.
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