All I can say about the Gamecocks in 2009 is: I told you so.
Sure, some of you were saying that South Carolina had less than a 50-50 chance of making the NCAA tournament. Others overreacted to the Gamecocks' early SEC trouble.
But C&F? No, sir. He kept his head level, kept his faith in Ray Tanner. Why, a direct quote from one our baseball posts: "The Gamecocks ... will be ... digging out of a hole." No doubt in there, mind you, that they would make it.
In all seriousness, though, I'm a little conflicted about how to write this post. Part of me wants to say "who saw that coming?" and point to the late-season SEC success, the second-place finish in the SEC East, the valiant battle in the NCAA Regionals.
But there's that nagging details: Yes, the Gamecocks made it to the Regionals. But they lost again, this time with a huge advantage that we frittered away. Yes, they finished second in the SEC East, but for what, exactly? Yes, they won 40 games. But they couldn't win the games that mattered most, whether in Hoover or Greenville.
So what do we make of this interesting, frustrating year?
First, we got what we were expecting out of DeAngelo Mack and the pitching staff. One of those is good. The other, not so much. Mack hit .361 with 14 HRs and 60 RBIs. His OPS was 1.060, he led the league in hits with 92 and was third in total bases (155). Nick Ebert was also great (.321 average, 23 HRs, 1.181 OPS).
The pitching? Well, let's just say it had its issues. Those issues include: a 5.07 overall ERA and a 6.26 ERA in league games (9th in the SEC). That's not a shock with a relatively young rotation, but it shouldn't really surprise us that the postseason exits were quick.
But there were also some pleasant surprises, including Jackie Bradley Jr., whose .349 average and 137 total bases give us hope for the future.
Ah, yes, the future.
Someone may take a shot, based on the pure stuff, but there's a little bit of a buyer-beware buzz with the right-hander.
Mack is gone. I just don't see any reason for him to stick around for his senior season. The shortage of great catchers in the majors means Justin Dalles will also head to the pros. Seniors leaving who will be noticed: Alex Farotto and his seven saves; Andrew Crisp, he of the 23 doubles, including a league-leading 12 in SEC play (tied with Ole Miss' Matt Smith).
Not all is lost on offense. Bradley will be back, as will Whit Merrifield. (And, hey, there's always Scott Wingo.)
But the pitching should get better in the end. Blake Cooper is promising, and likely to return. Nolan Belcher needs to either improve or move out of the rotation. Parker Bangs struck out 39 in 33.2 innings -- but he also gave up 57 walks and hits, so there's that. He might ultimately be better served sticking to the offensive side of the ball.
Overall, I feel optimistic about next year. This team did awfully well in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Next year, though, more will be expected.
If that team outperforms expectations like this one, 2010 should be far more exciting -- and far less frustrating.