There were a host of big names on South Carolina’s two national championship teams, including future major leaguers Jackie Bradley Jr., Whit Merrifield and Christian Walker and College World Series hero and 2011 National Player of the Year Michael Roth.
But none made more big plays or memorable moments than Scott Wingo, who helped lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back national titles.
Wingo was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 College World Series, but his most memorable moment came in 2010, when he scored the winning run as South Carolina won its first national title.
“The feeling running down that baseline was just surreal,” Wingo said. “It was one of the purest and unbelievable feelings you can have.”
Wingo had his best season in 2011, when the team captain hit .338 and made first-team All-SEC while leading the Gamecocks back to Omaha. In the championship series, he came up big again, delivering the game-tying RBI in Game 1 vs. Florida and driving in two more runs in the title-clinching game.
Wingo played in 254 career games, second most in program history, and was twice named to the SEC All-Defensive team. An 11th-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers, he played three years of professional baseball before returning to South Carolina as a student assistant in 2015. After coaching stints at North Greenville and Jacksonville, he is now an assistant coach at Notre Dame.
Wingo spoke with Spurs & Feathers editor Jeff Owens about his Gamecock career and College World Series heroics.
What were you thinking when you were out there on base with the game and the national championship on the line?
“When I got on first after he walked me, obviously as a baseball player, you feel like you are going to score, but I felt pretty good about it. And then when [Evan] Marzilli went to bunt and the ball got away from the catcher without him even bunting, no outs, man on second base, then I’m feeling real good. Then when Marzilli got the bunt down with Whit up, honestly I thought they were going to walk him. I was just talking to [assistant coach Chad] Holbrook and making sure we were back on the line, I didn’t get too far off the base because a shot to third you can’t even risk a guy laying out and tagging the base. We were just locked in there, but it was honestly an enjoyable moment for me. I remember looking up in the stands at my family where I knew they were sitting. I just remember looking up at them and I think I pointed at my brother and my dad. Obviously, I was staying locked in but I felt, ‘Hey, if they pitch to Whit here … you had either Whit, Jackie or Christian Walker.’ It wasn’t a good spot for them whoever they wanted to pitch. I knew Whit was going to get the job done.”
When you won, did you guys realize the magnitude of what you had just accomplished?
“That first one, we did. There was a wow factor. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we really just did this.’ We were kinda like, at the same time, ‘Man, we don’t play any more games, this is it, we won the last one, it’s over.’ But it was an incredible feeling just knowing we just did something that we have never done before. Now the second one, the mindset was a little bit different. When we won it, it was almost like, we really believed that somebody had to take it from us to lose it. We really felt like that was our’s again. But the first one, no one had been there on that team. It was incredible.”
Do you still hear from fans about that 2010 win?
“Yes, I do. Not all the time, but it’s awesome. I love talking to fans or family members or just anybody about it because that is something you are proud of and you get to experience and share it with the fans who lived it with you watching the games. They were just as involved as everybody because if they don’t show up, we don’t win some of those home games. They are huge for us. I love getting to talk to whoever about those games. It’s still awesome.”
You won it again in 2011, but was that moment in 2010 probably the highlight of your career?
“I would say so. I’ve thought about this before, and obviously 2011 is up there, one and two, but that 2010, when you do something for the first time, that being the first time and just how we lost the very first game of the tournament and just absolutely rolled and got hot from there, that’s got to top it. Scoring that run and the team winning our first national championship, that’s going to be hard to top.”
Do you have a favorite moment from that season?
“What really sticks with me wasn’t a favorite moment, it was us getting beat by Clemson in that Sunday game, 19-6. After that game, man, we just flipped the switch. We turned over a leaf and went to town on some teams. That’s when we got hot. When Clemson beat us, we could have went the other way. You get crushed, you can go one way, or you can go the other way, and we answered the bell for sure. I think after that game was when we got hot and we kinda came together.”
As a coach now, are there things that you teach your players that you learned from Coach Tanner?
“I won’t say I’m not as tough on guys as he was, because sometimes he was tough on me, but it was a good thing because he knew I could handle it and, honestly, I needed it. He used to say I always toed the line, but I needed it. The one thing is, as an athlete, you have to work hard and have good grades and you have to do things right off the field because once you leave the baseball stadium, that South Carolina mark or that hat, that doesn’t leave you just because you are outside the stadium and not playing baseball. You have to hold yourself accountable and represent the university. You have to do it all the time. Even nowadays, everybody is watching you whether you know it or not. That just has to be a commitment. And if you don’t, you’re not going to play, or you are not going to be good, you are going to lose. If you want to have a good team, that’s how you do it right there.”
Everyone describes you and others on the team as “grinders.” How accurate was that?
“That’s it. That’s who we were. Defensively, we are going to make every play and we are going to turn double plays. If you hit it on the ground, we are going to turn it. You are going to have to beat us, but then we got arms to throw at you. It’s tough to beat that type of team.”
You were named to the SEC All-Defensive team twice and regarded as one of the best second basemen in the country. Is your defense something you took great pride in?
“Yes, sir. Going into college, I knew I just wasn’t very good at the time. But defensively, I worked with my dad and my brother for years. They hit me balls right outside in the street, right on the pavement. Those hops, they are truer than you think. If you are on the pavement … you are going to get true hops. Defensively, I took pride in that and that’s kinda what kept me having that faith that I was going to be a good player. I knew I was elite defensively and I knew if I could just get the hitting to come around. My brother would always talk to me, ‘Hey man, if you start hitting, you are the total package, so just keep working. Defensively, you are there. You can play in the big leagues right now defensively, just try to hit.’ That’s what kept that hope. I knew we were good on the defensive side, but you have to hit. That kinda helped me keep going.”
You raised your batting average by nearly 100 points as a senior. What was the difference for you offensively in 2011?
“I changed some things up a little bit. My junior year I thought I completely figured it out and then halfway through the season, I pulled my hamstring and I realized, ‘Hey, I don’t know if I can hit like that.’ I was squatting down and honestly just trying to drive the ball out. I was trying to hit home runs really, and I wasn’t hitting them. I think I hit nine until I pulled my hamstring. So I was thinking, ‘Man, I want to have a really good senior season and us win it and, shoot, if I get drafted that would be awesome too.’ I ran a lot more in that offseason. I always liked gaining weight and muscle, but I realized, ‘Hey, for a long season, these legs are going to have to be ready to roll.’ I just started running a lot and I kinda stood up a little bit more at the plate. I kinda opened up a little bit and not so squatted down and I started seeing it really well and I stuck that way.
“And I pulled my pants up. I went from pants-down guy to pants-up, and I went off after I pulled my pants up.”
So it was really the pants and socks?
“Yeah, I started believing it was too.”
How much different was the 2011 team than 2010?
“I have thought about who would win a game. That’s so tough because we are missing some absolute donkeys from 2010 but that 2011 team … if you are talking about a one game or best-of-three series, that’s tough, that’s so tough. The difference? Not much, to be honest with you. … [Starting pitcher] Forrest Koumas stepped up huge as a freshman. [Reliever] John Taylor was an absolute stud for us. We just had some guys, newcomers step up too. [Shortstop] Peter Mooney, he came in for Bobby Haney and that was huge. I loved playing with him. … There was not a whole lot of difference. It was kind of the perfect storm that we got Mooney, who came in and was able to fill in for Haney and was able to do an unbelievable job. We had Adrian [Morales] still at third, [Christian] Walker at first … we just had guys step up.”
After you won it in 2010, did you enter 2011 thinking you could do it again and were the team to beat? Was the attitude and confidence a lot different?
“I think so. After we won it, it was almost like, ‘Hey, if anybody thinks there is going to be a letdown or we are just happy to be here now because we just won it, no.’ Now it was like, we are defending this thing. The confidence even went up. We went from, we are hunting to now we are being hunted every single game, and we kinda liked it. You want to go, OK, here we go.”
Did the 2011 national championship feel different than the first one?
“It was still an unbelievable feeling, but it was almost like, ‘OK, we finished our task. That was what we knew we were going to do.’ When you know you are going to do it — I know just because you believe something it doesn’t always happen for you — but we truly did, and when it happened, we were like, ‘Yes sir, baby, that’s it.’ It wasn’t quite as shocking. The surreal factor was more in 2010, for sure, than 2011.”
How special is it to go back to Founders Park and be around the program and relive some of those memories?
“It’s awesome. Some of the guys are still there. … It’s cool to just get to see those guys. Coach Kingston is great. Every time I have been there, he is welcoming and the alumni, they welcome you back with open arms and want you to come out. He has asked me to speak to the team. I just love going back. … Opening Day, I threw out the first pitch, but I have to make up for myself because we lost.”
How would you sum up your pro career? What was that experience like for you?
“I think about that a little bit when we are reminiscing and talking about your playing career. I truly believe I maxed it out, potential-wise. Obviously I wanted to hit a little more, but for me, it was always tough keeping weight on during the season. I think that long grind of the season really wore on me. So offensively, it was always pretty tough. That grind, being 5-10, 175-180 pounds, when you get down to about 160, it’s a fight. But it was a great experience, a great career. I got to meet a lot of awesome people and still stay in touch with them. I think it was a solid career. I gave it all I can and just to get that opportunity. After my sophomore year, I hit .196. Who would have thought? I thought I would be working at McDonald’s after my sophomore year.”
Was getting into coaching your plan?
“My dad always coached me when I was little, up to 14 or 15 years old. How he coached me was something I kinda looked up to and always loved so in the back of my mind I always thought that was something I wanted to do.”
How did you wind up at Notre Dame?
“I did not know [head coach] Link [Jarrett] before but he reached out to me. Our recruiting coordinator I worked with at Jacksonville got the recruiting coordinator job at Notre Dame and that kinda helped link things up. When he called me, I was just excited. I got out of baseball for about a year and when I got that call the juices got flowing again. …. Link, this is his first year, and we had a good little season going. We were 11-2 until the coronavirus hit. We had a good little team and we are going to hopefully keep that momentum going next season.”