On July 16, 2012, Chad Holbrook took over the reigns of the South Carolina baseball program looking to continue the successful strides that landed the powerhouse program in the last three College World Series Finals. The team standing in his way in returning the Gamecocks to Omaha is his former team and alma mater UNC. Holbrook played for the Tar Heels from 199-93 and held the record for stolen bases until Brian Roberts broke it in 1998. Prior to joining the Gamecock staff in 2008, Holbrook spent 15 seasons at UNC and was instrumental in the success of the UNC program from 2006-08 as the associate head coach. In that three-year span the Tar Heels led the nation in wins each season (54 in ‘06, 57 in ‘07, 54 in ‘08) and made three straight College World Series appearances along with an ACC Championship in 2007. Not to mention, Holbrook was highly involved in producing major league talents such as Dustin Ackley, Tim Fedroff and Kyle Seager.
The last time the two Carolina programs met in the postseason was in 2007 in a Super Regional hosted in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels got the better of the Gamecocks in that series, needing only two games to advance. South Carolina owns an 8-4 all-time record in postseason contests versus North Carolina. Since 2006, the Tar Heels and Gamecocks have tied for the most NCAA Tournament wins with 45 apiece.
The Gamecocks (42-18, 17-12 SEC) are making their 11th appearance in the last 14 years in the NCAA Super Regional and are one of four SEC teams to make it to this stage. South Carolina finished second in the SEC East, making it five straight years that they ended the season second or better in their respective division. The Gamecocks battled plaguing injuries early in the season, which hurt their ability to assert their usual dominance over opponents. They started out a measly 8-7 in SEC play but ended the season on a high note with a 9-5 finish. Losses to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt ended South Carolina’s SEC Tournament hopes early, yet they responded impressively with three wins over Saint Louis and Liberty on two separate occasions in the Columbia Regional last weekend.
South Carolina is hitting .284 as a team (572-for-2011), which is fourth best in the SEC. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 51 home runs, rank third in slugging percentage (.422) and fourth in on-base percentage (.374). In the Columbia Regional, South Carolina was 39-113, posting a team batting average of .345. This is the second-best offensive display during the regional round only trailing the Tar Heels, who posted a .382 team batting average.
The Gamecocks have plenty of talented personnel offensively. The most notable name on that list is senior first baseman L.B. Dantzler. He leads the Gamecocks with a .322 batting average with 15 homeruns and 51 RBI. Dantzler is tied for the lead in the SEC in home runs and possesses an impressive .434 on-base percentage along with a .624 slugging percentage. Sophomore Joey Pankake is another name to expect to see over the weekend with a .313 batting average with 10 homeruns on the season. Two other players to watch are sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner and freshman second baseman Max Schrock. Greiner was named to the USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and posted a .304 batting average and accumulating 35 RBI. Schrock’s freshman campaign has been one to remember as he leads the Gamecocks with 20 multi-hit games and is expected to claim the leadoff spot for South Carolina this weekend against the Tar Heels.
UNC batting coach Scott Jackson’s Take:
“We’ve seen them all. They’ve all kind of done some different things for them. I think they’re leading off (Max) Schrock a little bit now. They’ve led off (Tanner) English some. I think they’re probably fired up to have everybody healthy and have that complete lineup that they probably had envisioned all year long. They’re there now. Obviously you saw what they did in their regional. They had one game where they scored a bunch of runs and they found some ways to score in the other games. They’re very talented. Schrock can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Dantzler can. (Joey) Pancake can. (Grayson) Greiner’s got tremendous power. There’s some speed in there with Schrock and English who can just absolutely float. They’ve got some speed off the bench with Shon Carson and they’ve got some guys who can do some other things along those lines. Obviously, there’s a reason they’re hear and offensively they can do some things from a lot of different angles with the power and the speed that makes you have to make plays. It ultimately makes you have to be careful on the mound.”
South Carolina Starters:
LHP Nolan Belcher (Sr., 7-5, 2.25 ERA. 112.0 IP, 94/15 K/BB)
LHP Jordan Montgomery (So., 5-1, 1.67 ERA, 70.0 IP, 57/17 K/BB)
LHP Jordan Wynkoop (Fr., 7-3, 2.92 ERA, 61.2 IP, 36/11 K/BB)
The Gamecocks’ pitching staff is filled with talent and experience. South Carolina owns a 3.01 ERA on the year and that feat ranks fifth best in the SEC. They have racked up 479 strikeouts versus just 139 walks in 535.1 innings pitched so far this season. Opponents are hitting .253 and have consistently fallen below their season average with their walk to strikeout ratio. The most notable pitcher on staff for South Carolina is senior left-hander Tyler Webb. Webb is among the nation’s leaders with 17 saves including nine saves in SEC contests. He has not allowed a run in 25 of 30 relief appearances this year. Webb is 3-2 with a 1.36 ERA in 39.2 innings. He has 60 strikeouts to just 12 walks with opponents batting .205 while he’s on the mound.
UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes’ Take:
On Tyler Webb:
“He’s experienced. He’s pitched in Omaha. He’s been the setup man with Price who’s been in big situations so he’s not going to be fazed. We do feel like we’ve faced some really good arms this year and left-handed arms. Kyle Crockett stands out for Virginia. They’re a little bit different but they’re both power arms that don’t walk anybody. You’re definitely going to have to beat him. He’s not going to beat himself but at this time of year every team is going to have that type of guy. Left-handed or right-handed you’re going to have to figure out a way to scratch one across. Hopefully it won’t be a situation where he’s closing the door too often.”
On Nolan Belcher and Jordan Montgomery:
“Montgomery and Belcher have both been innings eaters. We won’t be fazed just because they’re left-handed. You face a guy like Carlos Rodon and then you face Virginia and Miami. They’re loaded with left-handers and you can’t ever use that as an excuse. We have a lot of left-handed batters but they’ve been fortunate enough to face a lot of left-handed pitchers. They’ll both definitely give us a challenge. Both Belcher and Montgomery have been consistent. I’m sure they’ll be good but I think our guys will be ready.”
On approach to facing South Carolina pitching:
“Our guys have been through everything especially with last weekend and some of those games in the ACC Tournament. They are good and you have to beat them. That’s one thing about their pitching staff. Coach Myers does such a good job with those guys. They don’t walk you too often so you have to go up there ready to hit and see if you can get some base runners on and get them over and get them in.”