Five Years Ago Today – CWS Championship Game 2: Glory

Whit Merrifield forever. (Photo: thestate.com)

Whit Merrifield forever. (Photo: thestate.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today, we celebrate the first major National Championship in school history.

PING

I don’t need to see the video to hear that sound in my head. That pre-BBCOR bat sound. That beautiful sound that meant Whit Merrifield had made solid contact on a 2-0 pitch with the winning run on third. The sound that signified something very good had happened. 

“Line drive right field base hit!”

I let out some unintelligible sound, something between a “YEAHHHH!” and an “AHHHHHH!”

“South Carolina wins the College World Series!”

I stood there with with my hands on my head, silent. I didn’t cry, but there were definitely tears in my eyes as I watched the celebration unfold. 

It was the most stressful sporting event I’ve ever watched, knowing how important one measley run was for the entire game. Both pitching staffs throwing like the fate of the free world was at stake. 

For the Gamecocks it was Roth, Mata, Webb, and Taylor combining to limit UCLA to one run over 8 1/3 innings. Then it was Matt Price for the final 2 2/3. 

My God, Matt Price. Will we ever see anything like him again? The dominance. The escapes. The primal screams. Then the look. That look like he was pissed off he didn’t get three outs on nine swinging strikes. 

But Gamecock fans might not remember that Dan Klein of the Bruins was just as good, going 3 1/3 innings, allowing only one hit – the hit that ended the game. 

UCLA could’ve played that final inning by the book. They could’ve walked Merrifield and Jackie Bradley to face Christian Walker and set up a double play. But they decided going after Merrifield was their best bet. 

Merrifield said when he saw the catcher squat down, he realized they were pitching to him. He said at that point he had something to prove. 

I remember having a strange thought just then. I thought “don’t end this on something stupid”, like a passed ball or an error. I knew the result would be the same, but I wanted us to win it, not them to lose it. I wanted nothing less than a solid base hit we could always remember. 

Then…

PING

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Championship Game 1: One Step Closer

Blake Cooper was masterful in the opening game of the championship series. (Photo: dailybruin.com)

Blake Cooper was masterful in the opening game of the championship series. (Photo: dailybruin.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today, the Gamecocks move within a game of the title with a 7-1 thrashing of UCLA.

It was a running theme throughout South Carolina’s three-year run in Omaha – they’re good, but the University of <insert name here> is loaded. The Gamecocks have no chance.

That was pretty much the story as USC prepared to take on UCLA in the National Championship Series. First, we had to face the Bruins’ rested, flame-throwing Gerrit Cole while we countered with Blake Cooper, whose fastball topped out at 86 mph on his best day. After that loss, if we could somehow miraculously squeeze out a victory in Game 2 then we had to go up against UCLA’s other major-leaguer-in-waiting, the flaky Trevor Bauer.

The Gamecocks pounced early in Game 1 against Cole, scoring five runs in the first three innings on a series of bunts, bleeders, duck snorts (thanks Coach Tanner) and Bruin miscues. Meanwhile, light-hitting Bobby Haney was the offensive star of the night, going 2-3 and driving in three runs. 

But the story was Cooper. Working on three days rest for the second time in the tournament, he admitted he didn’t have his best stuff. But the arm fatigue turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Cooper said he felt his fastball had more sink on it and the UCLA hitters had trouble squaring it up. He cruised through eight innings giving up only three hits and one run. John Taylor finished the Bruins off in the ninth for a 7-1 Gamecock victory, and they were one win away from their first National Championship. 

After all the drama of the Oklahoma and Clemson games, it was nice to have a relative “breather” in the first game of the championship series. 

But drama was just around the corner. In spades. 

NEXT: CWS Championship Game 2 – Glory

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Game 6: Owning Clemson

Evan Marzilli reacts to scoring the go-ahead run in South Carolina's 4-3 win over Clemson. (Photo: gamecocksonline.com)

Evan Marzilli reacts to scoring the go-ahead run in South Carolina’s 4-3 win over Clemson. (Photo: gamecocksonline.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today, South Carolina clinches a trip to the championship series with a second consecutive victory over Clemson.

Could you really top this given the circumstances? Our beloved Gamecocks rallying out of the loser’s bracket to win four consecutive elimination games and earn a spot in the National Championship series. And on top of that, TWICE beating Clemson, our hated rival, a team which only days earlier sat in the driver’s seat to earn that very same opportunity. It was heaven.

But, in contrast to the previous night, this time the Tigers didn’t go down without a significant fight.

In the bottom of the 7th, with two out, the score tied at 2-2 and a runner on third, the Tigers decided to walk hot-hitting Jackie Bradley to face freshman Christian Walker. Walker had already homered earlier in the game and was developing a penchant for clutch hitting, so it was obvious Jack Leggett felt he was choosing the lesser of two evils.

Walker came through, hitting a bullet into center field that scored Evan Marzilli. Adrian Morales followed with a two-out hit of his own, and the Gamecocks had a seemingly comfortable 4-2 lead with super-closer Matt Price on the mound.

But the Tigers pushed across a run in the top of the 8th after a brutal collision between Scott Wingo and Whit Merrifield delayed the game for five minutes. And then a bizarre series of events made this Gamecock fan briefly wonder if a not-to-be-named curse was actually real.

Price retired the first two batters in the top of the ninth on a strikeout and a groundout. One out from advancing to play for the National Championship, Clemson’s Mike Freeman lifted a fly ball down the left field line. Marzilli, an outstanding defender, looked like he had a play in foul territory. But as he ran over, he encountered the Rosenblatt bullpen mounds. And he tripped. And the ball hit the ground.

Gulp.

Then Freeman lined the next pitch into center field for a base hit. The tying run was on base, and the go-ahead run was in the batter’s box.

Double gulp.

Fortunately the torturous mind-screw didn’t last long, as Jeff Schaus of Clemson swung at the very next pitch. It took a diving stop by first-baseman Walker, but he jumped up, stepped on first base, and the celebration was on. South Carolina was two games from a National Championship.

NEXT: CWS Game 7: One Step Closer    

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Game 5: The Situational Lefty

Michael Roth went from afterthought to legend with one masterful performance. (Photo: sportstalksc.com)

Michael Roth went from afterthought to legend with one masterful performance. (Photo: sportstalksc.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today we look at the first of two games against rival Clemson. 

Prior to their arrival in Omaha, if I had asked you in June of 2010 to name as many members of the South Carolina baseball team as possible, there are a lot of names that would have rolled off your tongue.

Bradley, Walker, Dyson, Cooper, Wingo, Merrifield, Morales, Haney, Price…

Then you would’ve dug a little deeper.

Thomas, Enders, Marzilli, Mata, Jones…

Then you might have started to struggle a little.

Uh, Bangs, Brown, Ebert…

One name you probably would have struggled to come up with was Michael Roth. I know, you diehards stop yelling at the screen, I realize there are some of you who could recite the roster, jersey numbers, statistics, etc., etc., but you know what I’m getting at.

Michael Roth was way down the list of guys you would’ve picked to be our savior at the 2010 College World Series.

After our dramatic win over Oklahoma in 12 innings, USC had to face a harsh reality. We were playing a Clemson team that was undefeated at the CWS and well-rested, only needing to win one of two games against USC to advance to the finals. When Ray Tanner looked at what was left of our pitching staff after two elimination game victories, he couldn’t have felt good about it. No Dyson, no Cooper, no Price…no chance?

His options basically boiled down to senior Jay Brown, and sophomores Steven Neff and Michael Roth. I was a Jay Brown man myself, believing his starting experience would serve us well in that tough environment. But I was more than a little surprised, and maybe even a little upset, when Tanner chose Roth. Even Tanner later admitted he hoped “(Roth) would give us a chance to win through three or four innings, and we’d figure out what we were going to do (after that).”

All Roth did was throw a complete game 3-hitter, giving up only one run to the Tigers. He was magnificent, changing speeds and arm angles for nine innings, baffling the Clemson batters. Meanwhile, the Gamecock offense scored single runs in five of the first six innings and cruised to a stunning 5-1 win to force a winner take all game in their half of the CWS bracket. The other thing Roth did was give the USC pitching staff and bullpen all the rest they would need for the rest of the tournament.

Roth’s performance put the Gamecocks on even terms with the Tigers in terms of games, but there was no doubt USC took a mental advantage into the game two nights later. The ghosts of 2002 were now at Rosenblatt in full force.

NEXT: CWS Game 6: Owning Clemson

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Game 3: Miracle in Omaha

Adrian Morales greets Jackie Bradley, Jr. as he slides home with the game-winner. (Photo: Eric Francis, Associated Press)

Adrian Morales greets Jackie Bradley, Jr. as he slides home with the game-winner. (Photo: Eric Francis, Associated Press)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today we look at USC’s incredible comeback win over Oklahoma. 

There was really not much in the history of South Carolina sports to foreshadow what happened on the night of June 24, 2010. For the most part, Gamecock sports was characterized predominantly by its mediocrity. There were some very good teams, but with very few exceptions (women’s track anyone?), never great teams. There were bushels of average teams, and downright awful teams from time to time.

But on this night, something unexpected and quite wonderful happened – a great team emerged in Omaha. We didn’t exactly know it at the time as we were still in loser’s bracket hell, facing the long odds of beating a red-hot Clemson team twice with a severely depleted pitching staff. But in retrospect, June 24, 2010 changed everything.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen Jackie Bradley’s game-tying and Brady Thomas’s game-winning singles innumerable times. I’ve linked the entire bottom of the 12th inning below, and it’s worth a watch. Again. And again.

For a second time in the 2010 CWS, USC struggled to score runs against the Sooners, finally squeezing across a run in the bottom of the 8th to tie the game at 1-1. When OU’s Tyler Ogle homered off of Ethan Carter to lead off the 12th inning to give the Sooners a 2-1 lead, things looked bleak for the Gamecocks.

But that only set the stage two of the most clutch hits in school history. A few things of note from the bottom of that 12th inning:

  • The Gamecocks were facing Oklahoma closer Ryan Duke, who needed one save to become the all-time leader in that category in school history. He had tied the school record with a save against USC the previous Sunday night.
  • Free-swinger Robert Beary was the first batter of the bottom of the 12th, and looked completely over-matched on the first two pitches from Duke. Duke blew a fastball by him, then completely caught him off guard with a breaking pitch on the outside corner. Obviously, Beary made up his mind that Duke was going to come back with the fastball. He did, and instead wasting it outside like he was supposed to, he missed inside and Beary laced it into left for a leadoff hit.
  • Freshman Evan Marzilli was  a revelation in Omaha, but he had his worst at-bat of the CWS trying to move Beary to second. (Ray Tanner’s reaction after Marzilli’s first bunt attempt is priceless.) After Marzilli struck out, Beary took things into his own hands and swiped second. Whit Merrifield then popped out to third to put the Gamecocks one out away from elimination. (Don’t worry, if I remember correctly Merrifield gets a clutch hit in a later game.)
  • Jackie Bradley was next up, and was 0-5 as he stood in the box after starting the CWS 5-8 with two home runs and six RBI. With the count 2-2, Duke came inside with a fastball that was close enough that you see Duke pump his fist and audibly yell “YEAH!”. It was a ball.
  • On the next pitch JBJ calmly guided one through the right side to bring home Beary with the tying run. It was a great, clutch hit with our season down to its last strike, but the winning run was still 270 feet away.
  • Jeffery Jones was next up as a pinch-hitter and a shell-shocked Duke walked him on four pitches. Jones was a muscle-bound dude who was a significant contributor during the regular season, but this was his only contribution during the CWS that I can remember. (Also absent except in celebration videos – Nick Ebert, who was second team all-SEC in 2009.)
  • Almost as much as what happened next on the field, I remember the words of Sean McDonough: “We spoke with Coach Tanner this morning and he said Brady Thomas always gives you a very competitive at bat, and he is a clutch hitter. Couldn’t have a bigger spot to come up to in the clutch for South Carolina.”

The next sound you hear is the ping of the bat and the ball shooting into center field.

“AND SOUTH CAROLINA WINS, AND THEY’RE STILL ALIVE”

If Beary, Bradley, or Thomas hadn’t come up with those big hits, it wouldn’t have been terribly shocking to us as Gamecock fans. It would’ve just been another very good team that came up short. Instead, all those clutch at-bats gave us hope that something special might be going on.

Until we looked in the bullpen and saw the wreckage that was left of our pitching staff.

NEXT: CWS Game 4 – The Situational Lefty

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Game 2: Taking Out Some Frustration

Adrian Morales cranks a 2-run homer off the fair pole in USC's 11-4 drubbing of Arizona State. (Photo: gamecocksonline.com)

Adrian Morales cranks a 2-run homer off the fair pole in USC’s 11-4 drubbing of Arizona State. (Photo: gamecocksonline.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today we look back at Carolina’s first win in Omaha in 2010, a cakewalk over Arizona State.

On a sunny, lazy Tuesday afternoon in Omaha, South Carolina decided early on against top-ranked and top-seeded Arizona State that it wasn’t interested in going home yet. Jackie Bradley and Adrian Morales each homered in an 8-run second inning, and Sam Dyson’s pitched 7 1/3 innings of stellar baseball in the Gamecocks 11-4 elimination game victory.

While the ASU game proved to be an easy victory over a formidable opponent, there was still a considerable uphill climb ahead of USC. Clemson would defeat Oklahoma later that night, putting the Tigers firmly in the drivers seat in our/their half of the bracket. Meanwhile, Carolina would get a return engagement against OU, but this time with the end of the season on the line.

Even worse, Clemson could sit back and relax while the Gamecocks and Sooners exhausted their pitching staffs. Clemson would be fresh and ready for the winner of that game on Thursday night, knowing they would have two attempts to win one game to earn a trip to the CWS championship series.

For South Carolina fans the nightmare scenario was alive and well – be sent home by Clemson, and watch them go on to win the national title.

But first, we had to deal with Oklahoma.

Next: CWS Game 3 – Miracle in Omaha

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Five Years Ago Today – CWS Game 1: The Longest Day

Rain delayed South Carolina-Oklahoma for ~179 hours. (Photo: soonersports.com)

Rain delayed South Carolina-Oklahoma for ~179 hours. (Photo: soonersports.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run. Today we look at the first game of the CWS, and first of two against Oklahoma. 

My personal feeling of “just happy to be here” had worn off exactly one week after the Gamecocks secured their first trip to Omaha since 2004. Our half of the College World Series bracket looked daunting – top-ranked Arizona State, 50-win Oklahoma, and a Clemson team that had taken 2 of 3 from us in March, including a humiliating 19-6 loss on our home field – but I had convinced myself this team was capable of making a run.

We were to open with the Sooners on Sunday afternoon, but as I tuned in to ESPN it was obvious the game was going to be delayed for a while. And boy was it ever.

The game was initially delayed for four hours, and then was halted again for two more hours with Oklahoma clinging to a 3-2 lead. Aside from two homers, one each by Christian Walker and Jackie Bradley, the Gamecock offense was stymied for most of the night.

Down 4-2 in the eighth, USC was able to load the bases with two outs, but the threat ended with a Brady Thomas line out to end the inning.  Then they loaded them again in the ninth, but with one out Whit Merrifield fouled out to the third baseman. After a walk to Bradley to cut the lead to 4-3, Adrian Morales cut on the first pitch he saw and flew out to center to end the game and drop the Gamecocks into the loser’s bracket.

The story of the game, besides the interminable rain delays, was South Carolina’s inability to get a big hit with runners in scoring position. (As you well know, that inability wouldn’t last long as there were some huge clutch hits to come.)

To make matters worse, Clemson took down #1 Arizona State the next day in a surprising upset. So here we were in the loser’s bracket, knowing that an extended stay in Omaha would have to include at least one win over our hated rival.

As some would say, the situation was not ideal.

Next: Game 2 of the 2010 CWS – Taking Out Some Frustration

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Five Years Ago Today – The Beach Blast

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Christian Walker launches a 3-run blast to send South Carolina to the College World Series. (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of South Carolina’s 2010 baseball National Championship, TRC is briefly recapping each game of the magical postseason run, beginning with their Super Regional-clinching victory over Coastal Carolina. 

I was actually on vacation in Myrtle Beach on June 13, 2010. It was the second day of my family’s annual trek to the Grand Strand. We had listened to every nerve-wracking second of South Carolina’s 4-3 victory over Coastal Carolina the previous day during our 8-hour drive, and I actually considered going to game two in person. But the combination of 100 degree temperatures and the minor detail that it was sold slap out relegated me to my condo and a seat inches away from a 20-inch television.

Coastal was far from a pushover, entering the Super Regional with a 55-9 record and earning the privilege to host the series in scorching-hot Myrtle Beach. Many believed the Chanticleers were the best team in the state in 2010.

After being shut down for most of the previous day courtesy of strong pitching performances from Blake Cooper and Matt Price, Coastal broke out the bats in game two and chased now-major-leaguer Sam Dyson after just an inning and a third. The Chants were relentless on offense, hitting three home runs and scoring in six of nine innings. They carried a 9-7 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, needing only six outs to force a third game in the series.

After a Robert Beary leadoff walk in the bottom of the 8th, Whit Merrifield grounded into what appeared to be a back-breaking double play, and the Gamecocks were down to four outs with no one on base. Jackie Bradley, Jr. drew a walk next, and Adrian Morales doubled to deep left to put runners at second and third for Christian Walker.

Walker fell behind 1-2, and then proceeded to hit arguably the most important home run in Gamecock history.

Matt Price set down Coastal in order in the top of the ninth to send South Carolina to their first College World Series since 2004.

As for me, I’ve never enjoyed a game on a 20-inch TV quite as much as that one. And at that time, just getting to the CWS was good enough for me. Little did I, and I suspect we, know what we had in store over the next two weeks.

Next: Game 1 of the 2010 CWS – The Longest Day

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TRC Movie Review – #HereSC Redux

The latest TRC “movie” review focuses on a heartwarming sports story about two defensive coordinators who despise each other but must work together for the betterment of their team. Coaches Hoke and Ward put aside their differences…no, wait, that’s just a remake of Remember the Titans.

This review actually covers the latest gem from the South Carolina marketing department, the launch of the second “Here” campaign. From uscsports.com:

“The popular ‘Here’ campaign used by multiple sports during the 2014-15 season began its second year with a new football video today. The 80-second video launches an integrated campaign to promote the May 8th football season ticket deadline as well as the availability for new season ticket sales.

‘We were thrilled with the way the `Here’ campaign was received by Gamecock Country,’ said Associate AD/Chief Marketing Officer Eric Nichols.”

Did he just say Gamecock Country? When did we go from being a Nation to a Country? Is that a step down? Maybe it just sounds that way.

First off, I’m not sure what metrics were used to determine the original campaign was “popular”, but we’ll give the Eric the benefit of the doubt, since he was thrilled with the way it was received. We’re guessing a few more season football tickets were purchased, particularly by those possessing blue collars and garnet hearts. (Even if it meant skipping a rent payment or two.)

But let’s touch on the most positive aspect of the latest video –

NEW VOICEOVER GUY!!!

We spoke, and the athletic department listened. Thank God they did away with that 75-year-old John Facenda rip-off and replaced him with what sounds like a 20-something African-American gentleman. This is good because I don’t think we have any 75-year-old white dudes we’re recruiting for the defensive line.

And my man preaches. He might not be the perfect choice, but he is certainly a tremendous upgrade over Wilford Brimley.

Once again, from a visual standpoint the production team does a nice job. That said, there was nothing particularly original about what they showed. Cover up the Gamecock references on the weights or the t-shirts and you pretty much have any weight room in America. I’m also not sure black and white is the best call here, but it’s a toss-up so I’ll let that slide.

Once again the script is groan-inducing. I wish we could tell you the athletic department listened to our criticism of previous scripts, but alas, it was not to be.

(BTW, I’m just assuming Andy Demetra is writing these at this point because it fits our long-time narrative of bashing him because he’s simply not likable.)

Let’s look at some of the lowlights:

“This room is a lab with four walls, 15 tons, and a volume searching for eleven.”

Cool, four walls, 15 tons and…wait, what? Did he just reference “This is Spinal Tap”? This is (allegedly) classic Demetra, invoking an admittedly famous line from a movie MADE IN FullSizeRenderNINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. I can’t wait to hear the next video to see if Andy sneaks in a reference from one of his weekends of binge-watching Monty Python.

“He’s got teeth you know! And he leaps!”

“Here I grind for my state.”

At or near the top of the list of words that need to be banned from the sports lexicon – grind.

“Will one more rep make a difference?”

Depends, will it help us get a fourth quarter defensive stop?

“Here we won’t leave those questions unanswered.”

Because, at least last year, the answer was no.

“Because when the game is on the line, and my brothers are counting on me, that quit switch is the only obstacle to becoming legendary.”

I understand this is a hype video, but whoa, let’s slow down on the “legendary” talk. We’re coming off of a 7-6 season and lost quite a bit of offensive production, and have to attempt to recover from having the worst defense since the Brad Scott era. Instead of becoming legendary why don’t we focus on a 5-3 conference record, ok?

And a “quit switch”? What the hell Andy?

Quick note – the player on the bench at the 53 second mark of the video is wearing a “Steve Spurrier 2008 Football Camp” shirt. Not saying that’s good or bad, just kinda funny.

“Here the fourth quarter begins now…”

Oh, great, then let me take a couple of pain killers, grab a bottle of bourbon and watch Josh Dobbs shred our defense for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Seriously, I would’ve steered clear of any fourth quarter references.

“We have no choice but to lace ‘em up…and finish.”

Cliche’ alert.

“Here, glory isn’t given, it’s earned.”

Or, in our case, neither.

“Here, it’s great to be a Gamecock.”

If anyone at Clemson had a shred of talent it would be so easy to spoof the “Here” campaign. Fortunately nobody there does, so we’ll just remind you how much we disliked the first iteration of the Here campaign.

All in all, the effort in this video is slightly better. But again, there is nothing remotely special about it. Cover up the logos, names and stupid hashtag, and this becomes pretty much any football locker room in the country.

For TRC, I’m Buck, and we’ll see you next time at the movies.*

*Movies = YouTube

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To the Residents of Gamecock Hateville

Live shot of a Gamecock message board

Live shot of a Gamecock message board

A lot of fans of South Carolina athletics live in Hateville, a place that exists in cyberspace where mostly anonymous fans spend their time and efforts thinking up negative things to say about the teams they otherwise cheer for on a regular basis.

Before you call me an apologist, a sunshine pumper, or anything of the sort, let me make it clear that I am fine with, and often engage in, healthy criticism about the teams I pull for, including South Carolina. Healthy criticism is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what goes on in Hateville. In Hateville fans go over the top. In Hateville, it’s common to call coaches lazy and to question their qualifications to even be a coach at this level. In Hateville folks have all the answers.

The haters tell us about all the huge mistakes these lazy and uncaring coaches made in the game they watched from their couch. The haters then go on to tell us what they recommend to fix the problems they have identified.  Most of these recommendations center on benching the quarterback or firing the coach.  For example, a couple of years ago, a large contingent of USC haters wanted to bench some guy named Shaw in favor of some guy named Thompson.  This year, a large contingent of haters were absolutely convinced that all of our defensive coaches except Grady Brown were completely clueless and should never have been hired in the first place (meanwhile the D of our old defensive guru, Ellis Johnson, then at Auburn, was getting torched on a weekly basis). At the present time, a bunch of haters want to fire Coach Holbrook because the baseball team is in a big slump.

I’ll be the first to admit that in football our defense was terrible last year and that coaching/recruiting had something to do with it (but not having Jadeveon Clowney around anymore may have been a slight factor). I’ll also be the first to admit that our baseball team is not as good as any of our teams in the recent past. These are facts and they are indisputable.

I just happen to believe that the reasons for unsuccessful results are far more complicated that an allegation that Coach Sands is “lazy” or that Coach Holbrook is too much of a “good cop.” And by the way, how do the haters have all this information about the commitment and toughness level of our coaches? It seems that all the inhabitants of Hateville have firsthand knowledge of their daily routines and habits. What I think actually happens is that they read some snippet on the internet or twitter given by an “insider,” or uttered by a 17-year-old recruit, take it to be the gospel truth, and then they draw some sort of grand conclusion from it.

I have a couple of theories on why USC’s version of Hateville has so many residents these days: recent success and social media.

As eloquently espoused by Buck in a blog post a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that we recently experienced what he termed the Golden Age of South Carolina athletics. This Golden Age was largely a result of the success by the football and baseball teams. While success is great, it also results in two things that aren’t so great: bandwagon fans and unrealistic expectations.  I am of the belief that most residents of Hateville are bandwagon fans who don’t appreciate success like the fans who were supporters when wins were harder to come by. The bandwagoners jumped on board when times were good, and in short, they got spoiled. Only a select few football teams go 33-6 over a 3 year span. Only a select few baseball teams win back to back championship, and even fewer play for three titles in three years.

What some fans fail to appreciate is that the football and baseball teams didn’t have much room for improvement. To the contrary, they had nowhere to go but down (I know, we could have won the SEC championship, but what we accomplished in football over a three-year span was pretty incredible in hindsight). When a team loses after having some success, it stings more. And when it stings, some folks get angry and start pointing fingers.  After all, losing has to be somebody’s fault. You couldn’t have just gotten beat by a better team that was cycling up while you were cycling down.

I agree that we should have higher expectations that we have had in the past. I’m all for striving for more wins than we historically have been able to muster. That said, I realize that the path to sustained success is steep and winding. Occasionally our teams are going to swerve off the path and actually go backwards. This happens when every team you play (many of which have more tradition and more resources that you do) is trying to beat you as bad as you are trying to beat them.

One thing that really chaps me about Hateville: haters come across with an attitude that our coaches and administration don’t care, and that they are making emotional decisions about the retention of coaches. Personally I think this is total BS. Call me naïve, but I believe that our coaches and administrators are genuinely trying to win and would never retain a coach who they didn’t think could win. I find it preposterous to think that proven winners like Steve Spurrier and Ray Tanner would purposely retain coaches just for the hell of it. But the residents of Hateville think otherwise. How they know this, I’m not sure.   Maybe it’s the same way they know that our defensive coaches, save Grady Brown, are all lazy and stupid.

These past couple of weeks have been particularly busy in Hateville. The huge baseball slump has generated a steady diet of Fire Coach Holbrook message board posts and tweets. Coach H has been accused of ruining the precious baseball program, basically based on the rationale that he’s too much of a nice guy. You all know what they say about nice guys: that’s right, they finish last. I’m as disappointed as anyone that we aren’t winning more baseball games this year. I want that to change. But I’m also aware that baseball is a cruel game, a game where breaks tend to even out.

While I agree that we aren’t as talented, I think part of the issue (not the blowouts, mind you) is that the breaks have evened out a bit. During one stretch, this team lost 4 consecutive one run games in conference. One run games are a lot about breaks. During the championship years we always seemed to get the breaks. This year we just haven’t. Is some of that a lack of talent? Maybe. Is some of that a coaching issue? Maybe. I really can’t tell you, and I’ve been following baseball pretty closely for most of my life. People have forgotten that the 2010 team was pretty underwhelming late in the year. They forgot because the team then got hot as a firecracker and went on the win the national championship.

Why did that seemingly unremarkable team get hot and win it all while the Kip Bouknight and Justin Smoak-led teams never make it to Omaha? Who the hell knows. If you can figure it out, please let me know.

Social media also contributes to the hater attitude and the existence of haters because of the mob mentality that can spring from anonymous commentators piling on when a particular hater viewpoint is given. It becomes a feeding frenzy on the poor sap who filled out the lineup card or drew up the X’s and O’s. Haters want the coach to go as soon as things start going wrong. They want a new coach in place as fast as they can tweet it (because the unknown new coach is of course better than the current coach). Because certain things can happen so much faster these days, haters want failure to be remedied at light speed (think about how pissed off folks get when the wifi is slow). Instant gratification is what they are after. I really wish it worked that way in sports but it just doesn’t. Sometimes you have to endure rough patches when the talent level drops or the breaks all go the other way. That’s pretty much how it goes for every football program not named Alabama and every baseball program not named LSU, and even LSU has had some bad teams in recent years.

[Update: We just won the Vandy series. I wonder what the haters are gonna hate about this week. I’m not too worried. I’m sure they’ll find something.]

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