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Holbrook: Gamecocks will get back to Omaha
South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook watches the action during an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game against Campbell in Columbia, S.C., Sunday, June 1, 2014. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook sees the Gamecocks getting back to the College World Series — sooner rather than later.
The Gamecocks (44-18) were No. 1 in the country early on this season and considered a strong bet to make the field in Omaha. Instead, South Carolina fell twice to Maryland in the NCAA tournament's Columbia Regional, ending a run of 13 straight times the team had advanced when hosting opening-round play.
Holbrook, in his second season, had hoped to follow the successful path set down by former coach Ray Tanner, who reached the CWS six times from 2002-2012 and won national titles in 2010 and 2011.
"We didn't quite do that," Holbrook said. "That's going to stick with me for a while."
Apparently so. Holbrook said several times during last weekend's NCAA super regional play where he'd see a college game on TV and quickly leave the room. "I guess I'm still a little bit angry," he said.
Holbrook has been busy planning for next season.
It won't be easy. Six juniors who played in South Carolina's opening NCAA game were drafted by major league baseball clubs last week (all between rounds three and 11) and most, Holbrook said, are ready to start pro careers.
Those leaving include USA Baseball Collegiate National team catcher Grayson Greiner, third baseman Joey Pankake, centerfielder Tanner English, Gamecocks ace Jordan Montgomery and closer Joel Seddon, the Southeastern Conference's leader with 14 saves this season.
The last regular chosen was first baseman Kyle Martin in the 20th round by the Angels. Holbrook said Martin, who led South Carolina with 82 hits and a .336 batting average, could return.
"We'll find a good first baseman," he said. "I hope it's Kyle Martin. I hope like crazy it's Kyle Martin."
Still, Holbrook expects all of his returnees to be competitive.
Second baseman-designated hitter Max Schrock, a sophomore, is one of the team's best pure hitters, yet played just 35 games this season because of illness and back problems. Schrock was examined by a back specialist since the season ended and was told that rest — and not surgery — would have him ready to go next season.
"So Max is going to take the summer off," Holbrook said.
Outfielders Connor Bright, Gene Cone and Elliott Caldwell are all back and in the mix for next season as are shortstop Marcus Mooney and DC Arendas, an infielder who played second during Schrock's absence.
The biggest issue next season could be behind the plate where Greiner was a 6-foot-5 defensive gem who also hit .311 with a team-high 50 RBIs.
Logan Koch was a freshman backup this past season and Holbrook brought in junior college catcher Jared Martin and incoming freshman Hunter Taylor to compete.
Holbrook also believes he's got a candidate ready to step in for either Montgomery's starting spot or Seddon's role at the back end in Taylor Widener, a freshman who had 1.79 ERA in 21 appearances this past season.
Wil Crowe, a freshman standout who turned down more than $1 million to join South Carolina a season ago, lived up to expectations with a 8-3 record and 2.75 ERA. He's expected to anchor things for the Gamecocks' staff next season. Saturday starter Jack Wynkoop also returns.
Holbrook understands fan disappointment at not still playing this season, but believes he'll have a team next year capable of matching up with anyone in the country and advancing deep into the NCAA tournament.
"I think in time, you'll see the Gamecocks back in Omaha," he said. "We'll be back out there."