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Top 10 moments of 2012

Yesterday we looked at the Top 20 student-athletes for the Gamecocks in 2012. Today we take a look at the Top 10 moments in athletics during the calendar year. There were victories over nationally-ranked opponents, a national championship game appearance, and some big-time hires that will shape the university for years to come. As the year comes to a close, we take a look at the Top 10 moments of 2012.

Former South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery caught a touchdown pass on the stroke of halftime to help the Gamecocks to a 30-13 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. The victory marked a lot of firsts for the football program, including 11 wins and a top 10 ranking in the final AP poll.

1. Setting the mark: The first day of 2012 was the most memorable one for a variety of reasons. Playing in arguably the biggest bowl game in school history, South Carolina walloped college football powerhouse Nebraska 30-13 in the Capital One Bowl. Did the bowl victory yield a national title? No, nor did it produce any sort of championship. What it did do, however, was give the Gamecocks their best season in school history. For the first time ever, South Carolina finished the season with 11 wins and ranked in the top 10 in the final Associated Press poll. The Gamecocks fell behind just over three minutes into the game giving up a touchdown on the opening drive but quarterback Connor Shaw led a pair of first half drives for scores and then two more four quarter touchdowns sealed the victory.

2. Nearly the improbable: Only one time in College World Series history has a team won more than two-straight championships. South Carolina, under head coach Ray Tanner, found itself back in the title series for the third straight season this June in Omaha, Neb. After an incredible run of winning four games in three days, South Carolina was set to meet Arizona in the best-of-three championship series. The Wildcats were too much for the two-time defending champions as the Pac-12 team snapped the Gamecocks’ streak. South Carolina endured a tough run in the early part of the season losing six out of eight games near the beginning of conference play. Tanner, however, rallied the troops and got his team in position to make another run.

3. Four: State Champs! … for the fourth straight season. For the second time in school history, South Carolina has won four straight football games over archrival Clemson. On the shoulders of backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, the Gamecocks traveled to Memorial Stadium and emerged with a 27-17 victory. The victory meant another 10-win season for South Carolina, but it also meant win No. 65 in the Steve Spurrier era, which set a new school record. One of Spurrier’s chief goals when he accepted the job, he passed Rex Enright for the all-time wins mark and he will now have his name on the concourse at Williams-Brice Stadium. The senior class finished their career with a perfect 4-0 mark against the Tigers and the team set a school record with 21 wins over the last two seasons.

4. The promotion: Feeling like he accomplished everything he could in the dugout, former head baseball coach Ray Tanner was ready to tackle a new challenge. He’s always wanted to be a director of athletics and, when Eric Hyman left for Texas A&M, the timing was right. On July 13, 2012, school president Harris Pastides announced Tanner as new athletics director. Tanner won 738 games at South Carolina, a pair of national championships, went to 13 straight NCAA Tournaments, 10 Super Regionals, six SEC East titles, and three SEC championships. After turning in his No. 1 jersey for a suit and tie, Tanner now leads all 19 varsity sports programs and has overseen a successful fall on the field of play.

5. Sending ‘em packin’: Beating Clemson, no matter what sport, is always a big deal in Columbia. What was once a nip-and-tuck rivalry has greatly shifted in favor of the Gamecocks on the baseball diamond. Clemson still holds the series edge but it is South Carolina that has dominated in recent seasons. The Gamecocks eliminated the Tigers from the College World Series in 2002 and then again in 2010. The stakes weren’t on the national stage this time around but the loser had to go home and pack their gear until next season when both teams met in the Columbia Regional. The Tigers were game, but the Gamecocks were better. After taking two of three in the season series, South Carolina won both games in the Columbia Regional to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Both games were nail biters as South Carolina won 5-4 in 12 innings on Saturday night and then knocked out the Tigers with a 4-3 victory on Sunday to advance to the Super Regional round.

6. New leadership: South Carolina made two hires in major sports this calendar year as Frank Martin moved from the Kansas State program and Chad Holbrook was promoted from assistant to head coach. Martin brings a big name to Columbia to lead the basketball program and he has won everywhere he’s been. In his five seasons at Kansas State, he made four NCAA Tournaments and won at least one game in each appearance. South Carolina has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, a streak Martin hopes to break sooner rather than later. Holbrook, who came to South Carolina before the 2009 season, has been groomed by Tanner to take over the program. Known as one of the best recruiters in the country regardless of sport, Holbrook is now tasked with sustaining the success that he helped Tanner build.

7. How Sweet it is: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks made a run. South Carolina posted a season-high in points in an 80-48 victory over Eastern Michigan in the opening round of the tournament. Two days later, South Carolina upset opening round host Purdue 72-61 in West Lafayette, Ind. to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2002 season. The Gamecocks traveled to Fresno, Calif. in the Sweet 16 and put up a valiant effort against No. 2 Stanford before eventually falling 76-60.

8. Beautiful improvements: One of Hyman’s biggest contributions to the school and one of his strengths as an athletics director was his willingness and ability to improve facilities. He built a state of the art academic center, a beautiful baseball stadium, and upgraded athletics venues across the board. Two of the chief projects that benefitted the fans were unveiled at the start of the 2012 football season. The school spent $6.5 million on a new video board that is 36 feet high and 125 feet wide, which made it the fourth-largest in the Southeastern Conference and 11th largest in college football. Just outside the stadium, the $30.5 million Farmer’s Market site tailgating area took 18 months to complete. Over 750 trees, 3,200 shrubs, and 3,000 parking spots were spread across the 53-acre property. From tailgating to the Gamecock Walk, the new space right across the street from Williams-Brice Stadium is the central hub for all things football on Saturdays in Columbia.

South Carolina hired new head basketball coach Frank Martin to rejuvinate a program that was going downhill fast

9. Winning in London: August 8, 2012 was a great day for South Carolina track and field. Even though former Gamecocks Lashinda Demus and Jason Richardson have both moved on from the program, both still hold South Carolina track in high regard. Running in the summer Olympics in London, England, both Demus and Richardson returned back to the United States with silver medals. Demus earned her silver in the 400-meter hurdles running a 52.77 finishing just seven-one hundredths of a second behind Russian Natalya Antyukh. Richardson won his silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.04 seconds. American Aries Merritt won the gold medal.

10. Honoring one of our troops: One of the best moments of the year happened on a South Carolina field of play but it didn’t have anything to do with sport. On October 7, 2012, the Gamecocks hosted Georgia in a critical SEC East showdown. The Columbia Metropolitan Airport Military Family of the Game was the Faile family of Kershaw. Seargeant First Class Scott Faile, who had been serving abroad, appeared on the video board to give a message to his wife, son, and daughter. With the crowd filled to capacity and Williams-Brice Stadium and the message complete, Scott emerged from the tunnel near the visitors locker room to the astonishment of his family. Words can hardly describe the emotion on the field, so it’s best to watch the video, which is nearing 1.7 million views.

What moments did we miss? Let us know your thoughts! Join us on the Palmetto Proving Grounds message board to talk about this story and everything else that is happening on Gamecock athletics!

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