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June 10, 2014

Holbrook disappointed but optimistic

Chad Holbrook


Fresh off the disappointment of the program's first home NCAA regional loss since 1976, University of South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook still has a bad taste in his mouth.

Despite a 44-18 record and earning a regional host site, Holbrook knows success in Columbia is measured by how you do in June, and bowing out of your own regional is no one's idea of a good time.

"Obviously we're still disappointed and I don't know if we've gotten over the disappointment of our season being over yet," Holbrook said.

"As disappointing as it is that our season's not still ongoing, we have to get after it and get going and start working hard on our 2015 season. It's going to be an exciting team, a talented team, a lot of new names and a lot of new faces but a team that will be able to compete with anybody that we play against."

The 2015 team will be without several faces and names the Gamecocks have had written in most every lineup since their freshman year of 2012 - Jordan Montgomery, Grayson Greiner, Tanner English, Joel Seddon and Joey Pankake, who all were selected in the MLB Draft and will sign professional contracts.

"We've had some guys drafted off this year's team, and we're very very excited about the opportunities that are in front of them," Holbrook said. "That junior class that came in here that I was so close to, they'll get their opportunities to play pro ball and we're excited about that."

As for the production those players take with them, Holbrook said it will be missed - initially.

"You obviously lose some leadership and you obviously lose some experience, but we're not going to be short on talent," Holbrook said. "If we coach them and put them in the right spot and they become confident over the course of next season, they'll have all that they need from a talent standpoint to compete against the teams that we play against.

"Yeah, we're losing a lot of experience and leadership, but I don't look at it as we're losing a lot in talent. Not to take anything away from Joey and Grayson and Seddon, they're accomplished college players. But some of these kids coming in are extremely talented. The expectations here aren't changing here along with the change (in faces).

"This group is going to come in with the attitude that we're not going to miss a beat, and I hope that they come with the attitude that not only are we going to continue the tradition that's been laid before us but we're going to build on it and have a better year than we had this year. That's going to be our goal. I'm as excited about this recruiting class as I've been about any class since I've been here."

Holbrook said he's also excited bout the faces he already knows will be coming back.

"I'm excited about our new faces," Holbrook said. "But I'm also comforted by the fact that we'll have Connor Bright back, that we'll have Marcus Mooney back and DC Arendas back and Max Schrock back.

"It's not like it's a whole new team. We're going to have experience back."

Holbrook said the lessons of 2014 are many.

"There's lessons every day in baseball," Holbrook said. "I hope that I learned a lot as a coach and I hope that our players learned a lot as well.

"We had some ups and we had some downs. We had some great wins, the series win against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt at the end of the season was one of the highlights of the season, and obviously Ole Miss going to the College World Series, winning that series, we obviously had some great regular season accomplishments.

"The series against Clemson is something we'll remember for a long time around here. But yet at the same time we want to play our best baseball in the postseason, and we didn't quite do that, and that's something that's going to stick with me for a while. I have to look at myself and look at my preparation, and when I go forward toward postseasons in the future use that and implement things that work and obviously what I did this year didn't work. We need to go back to the drawing board in regards to that."

Still, Holbrook said he's proud of what his team overcame on the field, especially being so injury-ridden.

"I had a lot of guys who battled adversity, who weren't always at full strength for probably 85 percent of the year, it seems, and we found a way to continue to win some games," Holbrook said. "For that I'm proud.

"But the taste is going to be in my mouth until we play our first game next year. We lost a regional at home, and I hope that'll be a great sense of motivation for our guys that are returning. It certainly will be a big motivator for me and my coaching staff. One, we want to put ourselves in that situation again, and two, let's not lose. I hope I'll be a better coach next year because of the experience I had this year."

Holbrook said he doesn't worry about fans who may grumble about not making Omaha in either of his two seasons or who worry the program is trending downward.

"The best thing that makes me feel good about myself is that I work for a baseball coach," Holbrook said of USC athletic director Ray Tanner. "He knows how hard it is. I think he was oh-for his first 15 or 16 trying as a head coach trying to get a team to Omaha. "So it's very, very difficult. They came in bunches. Heck, I'm spoiled. A lot of people around here are spoiled by our success, and I am, too. As a coach I've been to Omaha six times in the last nine years. That's pretty good. But when you don't go, it stinks.

Holbrook said the only thing he's in control of is himself and that it's important to realize just how difficult making Omaha is.

"All I can do is the best I can do today," Holbrook said. "All I can do is my best. We've been very, very consistent here. We've won as many games as anybody over the list five, 10 years. Fifteen straight trips to the tournament, and a number of those we've been to the College World Series and played for a national championship.

"All I care about is what Coach Tanner thinks of the job I'm doing and what President (Harris) Pastides thinks of the job I'm doing. We've done some great things around here, and I'm not ashamed of my first two years here. I'm proud of what we've accomplished my first two years. Would I have liked to have ended in Omaha? Absolutely. But i'm also a realist to know that sometimes it just doesn't work out.

"We're going to try like the dickens next year to get back out there. That's all we can do. I think in time you'll see the Gamecocks back in Omaha. We'll be back out there. It might not be next year, but we'll be back."

WILL KYLE MARTIN RETURN?: Holbrook certainly hopes so. Drafted in the 20th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, first baseman Kyle Martin led the team in hitting (.336, 5 HR, 38 RBIs) this past season and was an overall steadying presence on the field, in the lineup and in the dugout.

"Kyle Martin is obviously a big piece of the puzzle right now," Holbrook said. "Kyle's sorting through a number of things that we're continuing to support him on.

"He has an opportunity to go into professional baseball, and if he chooses to do that he has our utmost support. I don't think he's quite ready to make a decision at this time. We want what's best for Kyle, and if Kyle wants to come back we're going to welcome him with open arms."

"He's torn because he loves it here and wants to play here and doesn't really want to give up his senior year, but he's trying to weigh if the opportunity is too good to pass up. Sometimes it's the right decision to go. Sometimes it's not. He's making the best decision for Kyle Martin."

2015 CLASS INTACT: Unlike last year's class, which took a big hit when Lexington High School catcher Nick Ciuffo was taken as the 21st overall pick of the Major League Baseball Draft, the 2015 class suffered no losses to the draft.

Two players - RHP Brandon Murray (30th Round, Phillies) and Madison Stokes (40th Round, Yankees) - were drafted, but both have said they're coming to school.

"We feel great about the class that'll be coming in in August, and we obviously dodged some bullets with that class regarding professional baseball and the draft," Holbrook said. "That class is intact.

"Those we felt we could lose we're going to keep, and they're going to start their careers as Gamecocks in August. We're excited about that group."

One player who still has academic work to do to qualify, Holbrook said, was RHP Junior Harding of Cambridge, Maryland.

MAX SCHROCK UPDATE: Holbrook said Max Schrock had his back checked by an out-of-state back specialist last week and that the result was that Schrock doesn't require surgery, just time to rest, heal and will take the summer off from baseball in order to focus on a physical therapy program.

"The doctor is very optimistic that (Schrock) will be 100 percent ready to go this fall," Holbrook said.

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