June 2, 2014
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The college baseball season is over for the Palmetto State’s powerhouse programs — and much earlier than many expected.
Clemson (36-25) went 0-2 in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1981. It was 1976 when South Carolina (44-18) last failed to advance from a regional it hosted, which is what happened this weekend when the Gamecocks dropped two games to surprising winner Maryland.
“It’s definitely a tough one to swallow, just coming out and not performing our best on our home field in front of our home crowd,” South Carolina closer Joel Seddon said.
The early meltdown hasn’t set well with some.
Some fans have questioned whether second-year coach Chad Holbrook was up to the job of leading a program that won national titles in 2010 and 2011 and is expected to be at the College World Series each year. Meanwhile, some Tigers fans are calling for the ouster of Hall-of-Famer Jack Leggett, who’s led the Tigers to six CWS trips, but none since 2010.
That might not seem like a big gap, but college baseball in the Palmetto State stands second only to football as the most important among the two fan bases.
Both coaches say they’ll do what they must to improve and get back to being CWS contenders each spring.
“It was a good season, but good isn’t good enough around here. I understand that,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to do better than good.”
Both programs usually have. This is just the second time since the NCAA started best-of-three super regional series in 1999 that neither Clemson nor South Carolina are among the final 16 contending for the College World Series.
“I go into every season thinking we’re going to get to Omaha, like everyone else does that follows our program,” Leggett said Saturday after his team was eliminated by fourth-seeded Xavier 6-4.
The question if Leggett will get the chance to continue is a big one. Athletic director Dan Radakovich said he’d meet with Leggett this week to discuss the program’s future. Radakovich issued a statement Sunday saying that while the team reached the NCAAs again — it was the 20th time in Leggett’s 21 seasons — “we can and will look to do more.”
The team was ranked as high as 11th this year and was 20-9 in early April before going 16-16 down the stretch. The Nashville Regional brought hope of redemption, yet the Tigers were pounded by Oregon 18-1 on Friday before getting eliminated.
Leggett, 60, is confident he can restore the Tigers’ edge.
“I think the future is always bright for this program,” Leggett said. “It’s been one of the top programs in the country for a long period of time. I haven’t lost any confidence in anything that we do.”
Despite his brief tenure, confidence in Holbrook has taken some hits the past two seasons. He was coach Ray Tanner’s top assistant and as recruiting coordinator helped build the nucleus of South Carolina’s back-to-back title teams. Tanner was elevated to athletic director in 2012, a few weeks after the Gamecocks finished just short of a third straight crown in Omaha as runners-up to Arizona.
Holbrook’s first season ended with a super regional loss at North Carolina. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 1 earlier this year and spent much of the year in the top 10. But they lost two straight at the Southeastern Conference tournament before being beaten 10-1 by Maryland Sunday night to end the year.
Holbrook said he and his staff will put in the work this offseason to get better.
“That’s going to be the attitude here as long as I’m the coach,” he said. “South Carolina baseball is a special program.”