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May 29, 2014

Gamecocks to put streak on line

Holbrook, Pankake, Greiner


Like talking about a no-hitter before it's over, the surest way to stop a streak in sports is to make a big deal about it while it's underway.

That's why South Carolina's players and coaches were loath to mention or discuss South Carolina's 27-game home winning streak dating back to 2002.

"We're not really too concerned about the streak," said junior third baseman Joey Pankake, who earlier this week was named to the SEC All-Defensive team. "We're going to take it one game at a time. We're excited to get out and play tomorrow night in front of our fans."

"We've been practicing really hard this week. Ever since we got back from Hoover after that showing down there we knew we had a lot of things to get better on, especially with these teams coming in here. I feel like we've gotten a lot better since we got back from Hoover, so we're ready to go."

Fellow All-SEC Defensive team member Grayson Greiner agreed.

"It's a postseason game and we're playing a really, really good team," Greiner said. "We've won 27 in a row at home but it's not going to be a cakewalk by any means. Campbell's very good. They've got really good pitching and are really scrappy on offense. It's not going to be easy for us at all.

"We've got to play our best game. We can't just show up and expect to win because we're at home. It's very beneficial for us to play in front of our home fans but we still have to play really good baseball."

USC coach Chad Holbrook, whose team is 42-16 and ranked No. 18, said the streak isn't something his staff puts a focus on in any way.

"I don't want to put any undue stress or burdens on my team," Holbrook said. "It's a baseball game.

"This is a reward for an accomplishment they've incurred over the course of a regular season. Now they get to play for a championship.

"If they treat it as stress or a burden they're not going to perform well. This is the NCAA Tournament, they should take a deep breath and let's go try to win. This is a pat on the back for a job well done and we get to play at home, so they should be excited and ready to go."

Included in the 27-game streak is a 16-0 mark at Carolina Stadium, which opened in 2009.

"It's a neat place to play, very unique for college baseball and our players really, really enjoy it," Holbrook said. "We owe a lot of this, our postseason success, the tradition of our success, to our fans.

"We do play well at home, but that doesn't guarantee us a win. You have to go out there and execute and play well and out-perform your opponent. Obviously, as loud as our fans can be they can't be inside the white lines with us, so our players have to perform.

"The stakes are higher. Anxiety is a little bit higher. We need to have fun playing the game. When adversity strikes, handle it. We always talk around here about postseason play, the teams that have the most fun, that handle adversity the best, tend to be the teams that play the longest."

One of the best weapons against adversity is experience, and that's where South Carolina has a distinct edge on its competition. The three other teams in the regional - Maryland (1971), Old Dominion (2000) and Campbell (1990) - have experienced a combined 78-year NCAA drought. The Gamecocks, by comparison, have been to the NCAA Tournament 15 consecutive years and have hosted an NCAA regional for five consecutive years. The Gamecocks are 58-8 all-time in NCAA Tournament play in Columbia.

"I'm not smart enough to measure experience," Holbrook said. "I feel good knowing that our players have experienced and been in the postseason play before. I think it helps them psychologically at some point, but we went in the College World Series in 2010, none of those players had been there before and we won the dang thing. If you play well, you have a chance to win.

"If Campbell comes in here and plays well and we don't, they're going to have a chance to win. If they play well and we play well, they still may have a chance to win. College baseball is very, very evenly matched. A lot of parity. All three teams in this regional have won a lot of games. It's all going to come down to who out-executes who.

"Every team, with the schedule they've played is prepared to play, prepared to win. Now lets see who executes on a big stage. Hopefully, the experience part of it will help us do that."

Not everyone minded talking about USC's 12-year home postseason winning streak Thursday afternoon, including two people aiming to stop it in coaches Greg Goff of Campbell and Maryland head coach John Szefc.

"They've been special over the years," said Szefc, who is 66-46 in his two years at Maryland. "I've known (former) coach (Ray) tanner since '07, I know Chad and (assistant coach) Sammy (Esposito) really well and know how hard they work at things.

"If you have great support like they have here, it makes it a tough place to come and play. It's a very intimidating place, like several places in the SEC are. You walk around, see all the stuff, the glimmer and glitz, which they've earned, I think sometimes that can creep into guys heads. At some point you have to be able to put that aside and play the game and whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

"You're either going to be good enough to win or you're not going to be, and apparently 27 straight times people have not been good enough. At some point or another, someone's got to break that. I don't know what point, but hopefully we're that club. It'd be pretty cool to mess that up."

Goff concurred.

"With Coach Tanner starting this thing, and coach Holbrook and those guys continuing it, it's a tremendous program," said Goff, who is 223-172 in his seventh season with the Camels of the Big South Conference. "I brought my coaches down here last year because I respect them so much, what they do.

"I have a lot of respect for them and what they've done, but sometimes a win streak has to come to an end.

"Maybe it'll come to an end Friday night."

"INJURY UPDATE: Holbrook said Thursday that sophomore second baseman Max Schrock (back) is "almost 100 percent" and would be in the lineup as the designated hitter. Holbrook said junior right fielder Connor Bright wasn't yet 100 percent but that he is "ready to go" and would definitely play.

"We haven't scuffled too much when those two guys (Schrock and Bright) have been in the lineup," Holbrook said. "We had to piecemeal some things together when they weren't in there and certainly are less formidable offensively without Max in there and Connor, two of our better hitters.

"Even if they don't perform, even if they don't get hits, I think it boosts our morale because we have some of our better players in the lineup."

Should something happen to either, Holbrook said he had no qualms about putting Patrick Harrington or Gene Cone back in the lineup.

"I'm very, very comfortable with what Pat Harrington and Gene Cone have done," Holbrook said. "I don't think we're sitting here hosting a regional without the performance of those two guys. I told them all, we're going to put a starting lineup on the field but that doesn't mean there isn't someone on the bench who isn't going to help us win.

"Don't get discouraged if Gene or Patrick aren't in there; they might help us win the game because I'm very comfortable putting them in there in a tight spot."

Game 1 between No. 2-seed Maryland (36-21) and No. 3-seed Old Dominion (36-24) begins Friday at 1 p.m. No. 1-seed USC faces No. 4-seed Campbell (40-19) at 7 p.m. Both games are available to watch on ESPN3.

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