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April 10, 2014

USC teams build dominant home field edge



Considering South Carolina and Florida are even atop the SEC Eastern Division with identical 7-5 conference marks, Chad Holbrook understands the critical importance of this weekend's three-game set against the Gators beginning Friday night.

He's just happy the Gamecocks are playing at home in front of what should be three raucous sellout crowds at Carolina Stadium.

Holbrook has a genuine reason for feeling that way since USC has built one of the best home-field advantages in the country with a 22-1 record at Carolina Stadium in 2014, 53-7 over the past two seasons.

In fact, USC is 177-33 overall (.843 winning percentage) at Carolina Stadium since moving into the six-year-old facility in 2009.

"I hope our guys have a lot of confidence playing here because they should based on the number of games we've won," Holbrook said Thursday. "We've had some big games here in the past five or six years. More often than not, we've come out on top. We've won some close games, we've blown people out, we've snatched victory from the jaws of defeat a time or two. This is a special place to our players. They're comfortable here. Our fans get into it. It's a great home-field advantage.

"But that doesn't guarantee us victories."

Holbrook, though, is far from the lone Gamecock coach feeling right at home in Columbia. The football team, of course, has won 18 straight contests at Williams-Brice Stadium, while the women's basketball team was a perfect 16-0 at Colonial Life Arena en route to reaching the Sweet 16 during the just completed 2013-14 season.

Even the men's basketball team got a taste of home cooking in early March by upsetting Kentucky, which subsequently advanced all the way to Monday night's national championship game in Dallas.

Since the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year, the Gamecock football, women's basketball and baseball teams have combined for an impeccable 45-1 record at home.

"The first thing, all those teams are pretty good," Holbrook smiled. "Talented groups that have stacked up pretty well against teams they were playing. Coach (Steve) Spurrier talks all the time about the atmosphere and the energy the fans give our teams. It happens with us in baseball, no doubt about it. We go on the road and sometimes there won't be much energy in the stands.

"But when we play at home we get a boost of adrenaline because of what's going on in the stands. We get a nice hit, momentum starts going our way and the crowd gets into it. That bodes well for us. On top of that, the fans sometimes can make it difficult for an opponent to play the way they're capable of playing because of the atmosphere."

Steve Spurrier credits the Gamecock fans for helping USC keep a clean sheet at home since late September of 2011. USC is 7-0 at William-Brice Stadium in each of the past two seasons, 34-3 in the last 37 home games. The Gamecocks have lost just three times in Columbia since the start of the 2009 season.

"We appreciate everything the fans do," Spurrier told an appreciative crowd Wednesday night at a Fan Fest event in Mount Pleasant. "We appreciate all the work (the fans) do in the stands. I tell everybody (we've won 18 straight at home) because our players play very well and also because the fans make it difficult for the opponent to try to beat us. So, you do your part and we'll keep trying to do our part next year."

Home field or otherwise, Holbrook will gladly take any edge his team can secure against a Florida team that swept LSU in Gainesville two weekends ago and features one of the top freshman pitchers in the country in 6-foot-1 RHP Logan Shore from Coon Rapids, Minn.

Shore is 3-1 with a 1.15 ERA in 47.0 innings pitched with 38 hits and 10 runs allowed. Four of the runs are unearned.

The Gators are 4-6 on the road after blanking Florida State, 8-0, in Tallahassee on Tuesday night to complete a coveted three-game season sweep of the Seminoles. Last weekend, they dropped two of three at Kentucky.

Since the SEC slate reaches the halfway point this weekend, the winner of the three-game series has the upper hand in claiming the division title.

"We have our hands full this weekend with Florida," Holbrook said. "They're a hot team. They've beaten some really good opponents, sweeping LSU and the season series against Florida State. They're a young team. Very talented and athletic.

"We're two evenly matched teams."

Holbrook can't guarantee USC will prevail in the series, but he knows the stands will be packed with more than 8,000 garnet and black clad fans cheering on the Gamecocks for every pitch.

"We have a great fan base, a passionate fan base that tries to help our teams win," Holbrook said. "The player have done their part too. And we've had good teams. The main thing is you have to be good to have a good home-field advantage. We've been good, football has been good, women's basketball has been good.

"Certainly, our fans help us out a great deal, no doubt about it."



DM


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