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The End of the Road

There are moments that you could highlight as the point when South Carolina lost the NCAA regional. The failure to close out a win in the first game against N.C. State and a wasted opportunity in the seventh of Sunday's game against N.C. State spring to mind.

But the failure to advance boils down to the same theme that plagued the Gamecocks all season: In its two regional wins, South Carolina scored 22 runs; it's its two losses to the Wolfpack, it scored five runs.

Though it was perhaps the Gamecocks' best hope on Sunday, pitching was never going to carry this team. This season, South Carolina would live and die with its offense. Give credit to N.C. State; the Wolfpack stymied a powerful lineup.

What about next year? Sure, some stars have already begun to shine or at least show promise, including freshman Whit Merrifield (.326) and red-shirt sophomore DeAngelo Mack (.283, 7 HRs).

But look at what this team looses or could lose: James Darnell (.306, 19 HRs, junior), Phil Disher (.297, 19 HRs, senior), Nick Godwin (7-3, 3.14 ERA, senior), Reese Havens (.359, 18 HRs, junior) and Justin Smoak, (.383, 23 HRs, Gamecocks' all-time leader in HRs (60) and RBIs (201), junior).

The likelihood that the 2009 edition of the Gamecocks will be as good as the 2008 version is maybe not remote -- Ray Tanner has a habit of fielding high-caliber teams -- but it's also not very good, either.

The team's offense disappeared at the worst possible time this season. Next season, the heart of that offense will disappear altogether.