When the Gamecocks took the field at Founders Park Feb. 21, it was 46 degrees with a stiff breeze blowing in.
By the third inning, my toes were frozen. By the fifth, I had gone through four hand-warmers and another layer of clothing. By the seventh, all fashion sense went out the window as I slipped a second beanie on my head. Next to me in the press box, Collyn Taylor (Gamecock Central) was shivering. On the other side, Greg Hadley (The State) was wrapped in a wool blanket. John Whittle (Big Spur) had disappeared, presumably to seek warmth elsewhere.
Six weeks later, I would walk through freezing rain in a T-shirt and shorts to attend a sub-40-degree game. I’m betting about 8,000 Gamecock fans would too.
That’s how much we miss baseball, softball, spring football and every other Gamecock sport that was abruptly canceled by the coronavirus.
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you cherish something until it’s gone. That’s a harsh reality sports fans are dealing with right now.
With whole seasons wiped out and sports suddenly on hold, here’s a few things I miss most about Gamecock sports:
• I miss watching Dawn Staley’s No. 1-ranked team celebrate another national championship. I’m pretty confident that’s what we’d be doing right now. The Gamecocks had won 26 games in a row, dominated the SEC and were set to enter the NCAA Tournament as the top national seed. Despite all the ridiculous national projections and prognostications, anyone who doesn’t believe they were going to win it all wasn’t paying attention.
I was at American Airlines Arena in Dallas when Staley’s Gamecocks won their first national title in 2017. It was great fun with confetti raining down on Staley’s team and thousands of Gamecock fans, including Ray Tanner and former University President Dr. Harris Pastides, going crazy. I can’t imagine what the party in New Orleans would have been like.
• I miss seeing if Frank Martin’s men’s team could make a run in the SEC Tournament and make the big dance. Martin’s team had proven they were capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams and going on an impressive run. They were hungry, determined and capable of getting it done. Now we’ll never know.
• I miss seeing if Mark Kingston’s baseball team could contend in the mighty SEC. After dropping a couple of early series, the Gamecocks had worked out their bullpen issues and were on a five-game winning streak. With a strong starting rotation and balanced offense, the Gamecocks were starting to mesh. I believe they were capable of hanging tough in the SEC and making a run toward another postseason appearance.
• Kingston’s team featured some fun players to watch. I miss seeing slugger Wes Clarke stride to the plate to “Rooster,” the most fitting walk-up song in college baseball, and belt some mammoth home runs. He led the SEC in dingers and I was looking forward to seeing if he could continue that pace.
• I miss watching Friday night ace Carmen Mlodzinski, his long locks flapping in the breeze, fire fastballs in front of dozens of big-league scouts, and was looking forward to seeing how high he could dial up the radar gun when the weather warmed. Mlodzinski is going to be a high pick in the MLB Draft. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see what he could do in his final season.
• I miss watching Beverly Smith’s softball team, led by one of the best infields in the SEC, find dramatic ways to win. Whether it was stellar defense by Jana Johns, Kenzi Maguire and MacKenzie Boesel or the power of new slugger Katie Prebble, Smith’s team was always exciting.
• I miss seeing if Kevin Epley’s women’s tennis team could make another deep postseason run. With fiery competitors Mia Horvit and Megan Davies at the top of the lineup and sensational freshman Emma Shelton, the Gamecocks were trending that way.
• I was looking forward to seeing if Josh Goffi’s men’s team could build on its 9-5 start, make a run in the SEC and possibly host an NCAA Regional. And if NCAA Singles Champion Paul Jubb could defend his national championship. Jubb had gotten off to a slow start (6-3) after returning from the pro circuit, but is capable of extraordinary things, as he showed last season. He could have made history with back-to-back NCAA titles, and I was betting he was going to make another memorable run.
• The women’s golf team had surged to No. 4 in the nation and was poised to make a deep postseason run. Led by seniors Ana Pelaez and Lois Kaye Go, one of the top players in program history, and fabulous freshman Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, who has been named to the ANNIKA Award Watch List, coach Kalen Anderson’s team had a shot to win the SEC and possibly challenge for a national title. It was going to be fun to see how far they could go.
• Men’s coach Bill McDonald also had a strong team. Led by seniors Jamie Wilson, Caleb Proveaux and sensational sophomore Ryan Hall, McDonald’s Gamecocks were also poised for another NCAA Tournament appearance.
• Curtis Frye’s track & field team thrilled Gamecock fans with three individual national championships last year, and two of those winners were back in sprinters Aliyah Abrams and Quincy Hall. Both were wrapping up fabulous careers and it was going to be exciting to see if they could chase gold again.
• I miss meeting new, engaging, exuberant football stars like Ryan Hilinski and Zacch Pickens, who delighted the media during their first appearances in the spotlight this spring. Along with exciting players like Dakereon Joyner, Xavier Legette and MarShawn Lloyd, they are the future of Gamecock football. I was looking forward to them flashing their talent in the Garnet & Black game.
Hopefully by fall, all this will be over, life will return to normal and we’ll be inundated by Gamecock sports again.