COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook hasn't been surprised by anything that's happened during his debut season, not even the second-guessing from fans expecting more after two national championships and a runner-up finish last year.
Holbrook has worked to continue the program's success after taking over for Ray Tanner, now the athletic director at South Carolina. The Gamecocks (38-10) are poised to win 40 games for a 14th straight season, a feat no other Southeastern Conference team can match. They'll also likely to make their 14th straight NCAA trip, also the longest streak among SEC members.
Still, there was plenty of squirming from fans when South Carolina was swept at Florida last month, then dropped two straight at home to Vanderbilt, who's ranked No. 1 in both College Baseball and Baseball America's top 25s.
"Fans do get spoiled," Holbrook says.
Holbrook was angered by the losses, too, and then received a dose of perspective from his boss, Tanner, the man who hired him away from North Carolina in 2008.
"He was sort of frustrated a little bit," Tanner said. "I said to him, 'You couldn't do anything else. You guys did great'" in losses of 3-2 and 5-2. The third game of the Vanderbilt series was rained out and not made up.
The Gamecocks end the SEC regular season with three games at Mississippi State starting Thursday. Then comes the SEC tournament. Bids to the NCAA tournament will be announced May 27.
Holbrook hasn't let the up and downs that come during the regular season alter his goals about advancing as far as possible in the postseason. Slumps and dips are part of every program when you play at this level, he said.
"No team in this league is immune to a difficult stretch because of how difficult the league is," Holbrook says.
He understood coming in he was responsible for a crown jewel program with the Gamecocks and has worked hard to keep it polished to succeed in the sport's biggest moments. Holbrook had some large spikes to fill with the losses of ace Michael Roth, closer Matt Price and slugging first baseman Christian Walker, who all left for the major leagues after last year's College World Series.
Once the season began, South Carolina dealt with injuries to starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery and several position players, including outfielder Tanner English, catcher Dante Rosenberg and first baseman LB Dantzler, who leads the team in the triple crown categories of batting average (.337), home runs (12) and RBIs (45).
"You can't hide behind the injuries. You still have to bring the ship in when the seas are stormy," Tanner said. "But he's had more than his share and they've endured."
Holbrook understands out-of-sight expectations. He played at North Carolina in the early 1990s and joined the Tar Heels staff as an undergraduate assistant in 1994. He earned the fulltime assistants job later that year and remained on staff for 15 seasons, helping North Carolina reach three College World Series.
The goals were even loftier at South Carolina, where baseball generally ranks only behind football to fan loyalties. Tanner's star began to fade in some eyes when Holbrook arrived because the Gamecocks hadn't made the CWS since 2004. Holbrook says he's trying to keep up with an amazing legacy of Gamecock baseball success.
"What coach Tanner was able to do here at South Carolina is one the of the incredible, incredible runs in college baseball," Holbrook said. "I'm lucky to be a part of it."
And maybe add to it.
The Gamecocks have bounced back each they've were swept. They followed the Florida defeats with a three-game sweep of their own against Kentucky and taking two of three at LSU the next two weekends. After the Vanderbilt losses, South Carolina won three straight over Georgia this past weekend.
Tanner counseled fans to enjoy the success and let Holbrook work through any bumps as a coach. "He's gotten the games that's he needed to get. He's in a good position right now as they go to Mississippi State," he said. "He's been outstanding."