- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook won’t talk to his players about finishing a victory short of the College World Series last season. He says they know too well what happened and are ready to work their way back to Omaha this season.

The Gamecocks and their second-year coach opened practice Friday in chilly, 29-degree temperatures for a season they hope leads back to TD Ameritrade Park for a fourth time in five seasons. Holbrook led South Carolina to the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional series in his debut season as coach, but lost game three, 5-4, and the Tar Heels went on to the College World Series.

“It was a disappointing end,” Holbrook recalled. “I hope there’s a bitter taste in their mouths.”

There is, catcher and junior leader Grayson Greiner says. And he thinks that’s combined with a determination to return and prove they’re still the program that won national titles in 2010 and 2011 and finished second to CWS winner Arizona in 2012.

“To me, it’s all about where we want to be at the end of the year as a team,” said Greiner, who played for Team USA last summer.

Greiner is a centerpiece of what’s expected to be a strong, deep lineup for South Carolina. The top returning hitter is Joey Pankake, who was second on the club last season with a .311 average, 11 home runs and 42 RBIs. Pankake’s weakness, though, was in the field at shortstop - he led the Gamecocks with 17 errors - and he’s switching to third base this season.

Pankake understands the switch and said it’s as much about keeping his recovery on track after straining his right arm during fall workouts. Junior college transfer Marcus Mooney, whose brother Peter starred for the Gamecocks in their run to the 2011 CWS title, tops the list of candidates to fill the shortstop spot.

South Carolina’s biggest questions this season are on the mound and the bullpen. Holbrook is looking for a Sunday starter to go along with stalwarts Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop from a year ago. He also needs pitchers for the end of the game after losing late-inning specialist Adam Westmoreland and closer Tyler Webb, who had 16 saves last season.

The Gamecocks could take a long look at freshman Will Crowe for the closer’s role. The one drawback? Holbrook says they may need the prize newcomer in the rotation. Crowe, from Sevierville, Tenn., turned down more than $1 million from major league teams who had hoped to draft him last June so he could play college ball.

Greiner said Crowe’s impressed players with his pitching skill and durability. “He could really be a bulldog for us who could give us a lot of innings,” Greinier said.

Holbrook said there’s time before the season starts February 14th against Bucknell to sort out the pitching roles. He’s sleeping better this winter than a year ago when he was preparing to succeed national championship coach, athletic director Ray Tanner, in the dugout.

Greiner said players see Holbrook’s growing confidence, too.

“He seems a little bit more in control now, a little bit more at ease,” he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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