For the first time since 1997, South Carolina began fall baseball practice with a new man in charge. Head coach Chad Holbrook spent 15 minutes answering questions about his team. He talked about his plan, how he wanted to do things, and then took the field at Carolina Stadium as the number one man, despite No. 2 still being on his back.
South Carolina has made six trips to the College World Series in the last 11 years. No school has made more trips during that span.
Gone are Michael Roth and Matt Price. The core of the program that made it to three College World Series has moved on and former head coach Ray Tanner has a shiny new office a couple miles up the road. This is Holbrook’s team now and, even with such great success the last three years, there’s a lot to replace.
A lot of change has taken place in the days since Arizona recorded the final out at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. The journey to get back again this year began on Friday.
“This team is going to have to build and develop it’s own identity,” Holbrook said. “It’s a new start.”
Holbrook and the Gamecocks opened fall camp with its first team practice on Friday afternoon. The team spent about 30 minutes just taking leads off first base. After some infield and outfield drills, the team took a few swings before heading to the weight room.
South Carolina will have its first scrimmage on Saturday at Noon and its second on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.
“Needless to say, it’s a very important fall for us,” Holbrook said. “We have some talented kids and some talented players. We’re expecting big things from this team. There are a lot of questions to be answered as we go through the fall and I don’t know if we’ll be able to answer all of those questions this fall. As a head coach in my first opportunity to get out on the field with our team, it’s an exciting day for us.”
The former leader, Tanner, was no where to be found on Friday afternoon at the ballpark. It was just Holbrook with his staff full of familiar faces - Jerry Meyers, Sammy Esposito, Brian Buscher, and Drew Meyer.
“Coach Tanner was the leader of this program,” Holbrook said. “He’s an icon. So, there are going to be some differences, some changes, but there’s not going to be many changes on how we do things on a day-to-day basis.”
Change is inevitable in a college program. Holbrook has three of eight position players to replace, a Friday night starter, and an All-American closer. There are plenty of players on the roster who can step in and take those positions, but they have difficult shoes to fill.
South Carolina has landed one of the top recruiting classes in the country each of the last four years, which Holbrook has been in charge of. Some players have been waiting in the wings for the chance while others are eager freshmen ready to see if their skills will translate immediately from the high school to college level.
Holbrook is now tasked with finding the right fit. It’s September, he’s quick to say, and each day they’ll get a little bit closer to figuring out who can play at a high enough level to be in position to make another postseason run.
“Like we tell our players, we embrace the expectations that are set in front of us. We’re not going to run from that. We just want to do our best today. You won’t hear our players talk about Omaha or the NCAA Tournament. We’re going to talk about being better today. We’ll try to be a little better tomorrow than we were today. Hopefully, come June, that will put us up with the nation’s elite.”
June is a long way away. Right now, it’s September. There has been a lot of change in the program since the last out was recorded by Arizona a few short months ago. The expectations, however, haven’t changed.
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