Memories of 300: Beverly Smith, Gamecock greats recall program-defining wins

Memories of 300: Beverly Smith, Gamecock greats recall program-defining wins

By Josh Hyber | Photo courtesy of SC Athletics

Beverly Smith remembers moments more than specific games. 

She remembers the growth of her teams, and the players on them, that have made her eight-plus seasons as South Carolina softball head coach special. She remembers “sandlot” practices at Dreher High School, the opening of Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field and the team’s reaction when it made the NCAA Tournament for the first time under her leadership.

But for Smith, and those involved with the Gamecock program, there are several wins along the way that have defined her tenure, from the first to the 300th, which she earned in March. 

During an afternoon walk around Athletic Village, Smith spoke with Spurs & Feathers about several of the most memorable victories. At 306 wins, Smith ranks second on the school’s all-time softball wins list behind Joyce Compton (951).

Several former Gamecocks also spoke over the past several weeks about the memorable wins and what the program was like during their time in garnet and white.

Editor’s note: The following article will appear in the April Spurs & Feathers magazine. To subscribe to the monthly publication, head here.

No. 300 — March 20, 2019 vs. Duke (5-4)

South Carolina has had a knack for come-from-behind wins during Smith’s tenure, so it was only fitting the milestone came in dramatic, comeback fashion. Not to mention it came against Duke, a rival for Smith, a North Carolina alumnus.

Duke pounced for a four-run sixth inning, but the Gamecocks answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame. Pitcher Dixie Raley then escaped unscathed from the top half of the seventh after allowing a leadoff triple.

After a double, walk, sacrifice bunt and back-to-back walks brought home the tying run, Alyssa Kumiyama sent a single up the middle to score the winning run. 

“We love coach,” Kumiyama said after the game with a wide smile. “For us to do this, it meant a lot. Just to show her we are behind her with everything.”

“It was exciting,” Smith said, clutching a ball from the milestone win. “All the wins are hard to come by. [But] this one was certainly special, being that we came from behind to do it.” 

No. 1 — February 11, 2011 vs. Charleston Southern (10-6)

Win number one came in attempt one, on a Friday afternoon against the Buccaneers in South Carolina’s 2011 season-opener.

Lauren Lackey (2009-12) remembers Smith reading the lineup in the locker room and heading to the field. “I had so much excitement and nervousness, I had the chills,” she said. “I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest.”

“For her first game we all wanted to make her proud and start her off on the right foot,” Kaitlin Westfall (2009-12) said. “We found ourselves playing with an extra sense of oomph. We knew all the work we put in during the preseason and wanted it to reflect coach Bev.”

The Gamecocks trailed 2-0, and were tied with the Buccaneers at 3-3, but scored three runs in the third, two in the fourth and five in the fifth.

“We never gave up. We fought and fought,” said Smith, who has a plaque in her office that South Carolina administration gave her to commemorate the win. “It wasn’t about me. I wanted the win for the players, because I felt they had worked so hard. I felt they had bought in. The work ethic was there and I wanted the result for them.”

No. 19 — April 6, 2011 vs. North Carolina (1-0)

Smith played (1991-94) and coached as an assistant for the Tar Heels (1998-2002, 2004-10) before taking the head coaching job at South Carolina. So win number 19 was special.

“I had recruited that entire dugout, so there were a lot of relationships there,” she said. “And I played for and coached with coach [Donna J.] Papa, and it was tough to leave.”

Before the game, Smith told her Gamecock players not to mistake the hugs she gave her former players for the loyalty she had for her current squad and how much she wanted to beat her old team. “Let’s go get this,” she told them. 

“We all wanted that game so bad,” Westfall said. “There was no tension, just extreme focus and looseness to get a win.”

“I had one kid in the lineup who could hit a home run, OK?” Smith recalled. “And it’s a 0-0 ballgame. And truthfully, North Carolina was probably a lot better than we were that year. [But] I had insight on how to pitch them. So it was a scoreless ballgame and the one kid [Laura Mendes] runs into a ball in the bottom of the sixth and we win 1-0. 

“I remember being so excited for our team. I was at third base at the time, and I could feel how deflated the North Carolina dugout got. That was hard, a little bit. … My heart broke for them, but I was so excited for our players. It was just something else to keep proving to them hard work plays off.”

No. 80 — May 4, 2013 vs. No. 2 Florida (2-1)

South Carolina, needing a win to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Smith, snapped a 28-game losing streak to UF.

South Carolina played tough, and with two outs in the fourth — with the Gamecocks down 1-0 — Shelby Gonzales drove an 0-1 pitch over the left field wall, also scoring Ashlyn Masters, who had walked. “I remember Shelby Gonzales hitting that home run,” Smith said. “I remember it vividly.”

The Gamecocks had to escape a final threat from the Gators in the seventh. UF had runners on first and second with no outs and the bases loaded with two outs.

On a 3-2 pitch, Florida’s batter stopped herself from swinging fully through the strikezone. The home plate umpire checked with the second base umpire, who ruled the swing went around. It was a controversial call, and it drew a fiery reaction from Gator coach Tim Walton. 

“But we won,” Smith said.

“I will always remember the emotions that were felt during the last inning of that game,” Julie Sarratt (2011-15) said. “We had a freshman (Katy Marks) pitching, 3-2 count and she struck the girl out.”

Smith teetered on whether or not to have an NCAA Tournament selection show watch party, but ultimately decided to have a small one for just players and coaches at her house. “If we get in, the video is going to be awesome,” Smith told Justin Stoll, the team’s former video production coordinator. “If we don’t, I’m going to play it at the first day of practice next year.”

Needless to say, they got in. 

“To this day, it’s probably one of my top five moments,” Smith said. “To see their name called with all the screaming and hugging, that’s what it’s about.”

No. 97 — February 27, 2014 at No. 3 Arizona State (3-2)

Win No. 97 — led by a 3 for 3, 2-RBI day from Chelsea Hawkins — was the third over a ranked opponent for the Gamecocks in its previous six games.

Arizona State fought to keep its 18-0 record spotless with two no-out runs in the seventh, but Gamecock pitcher Nikkie Blue escaped a no-out, runners-on-second-and-third jam to end it. Blue had a full count on the final batter, who lined out.

“That was my first major win in college, and I think it was the time I allowed myself to realize I came to college and South Carolina to win,” Blue said. “It was super intimidating going into ASU as a freshman, but coach Bev had instilled so much confidence and trust in me. I wanted to live up to her standards. 

“I do remember after the last out thinking, ‘Oh that was the last out, we won!’ and then realizing I can finally breathe and take in the moment.” 

Nos. 117 and 118 — May 3 and 4, 2014 vs. No. 20 Auburn (7-4, 4-2) 

The SEC adding Missouri in 2013 and Texas A&M in 2014 meant the conference now excluded three teams from its then 10-team tournament. A tournament that, in 2014, was played at South Carolina’s sparkling new stadium.

“I think [those were] must-win for us to get into our own tournament,” Smith said. “It was that close.”

No. 216 — March 26, 2017 at No.9 Alabama (14-0) 

The team’s next top-10 win came behind a dominating performance from Blue and an offensive explosion. Blue shut down the Crimson Tide, striking out four while not walking a batter and allowing only two hits. It was South Carolina’s first win at Alabama since 2004, ending an 18-game losing streak.

“It was also the weekend our men’s basketball team made the Final Four, so I remember thinking how South Carolina sports were on the come up,” Blue said.

Until that point it was the most runs an opponent has ever scored at Alabama. 

“Our team had been on the wrong side of that before, so it was something to show them that we were capable of that too,” Smith said. 

“I think we definitely caught Alabama off guard and their fans. Their stadium was dead silent other than our fans, which is a huge difference from what it normally is there,” Blue said. “I felt really good and the mood in the dugout was very light. After every inning I remember my meetings with coach Bev being pretty brief because I think we both realized I was in a groove and neither of us wanted to speak too long or over analyze anything.”

No. 220 — April 14, 2017 vs. No. 1 Florida State (7-2)

South Carolina’s first win over a No. 1 team in the NFCA Coaches Poll since 1995. “That was big. That was big for us,” Smith said. “We had been sent to FSU for Regionals three years in a row. I remember thinking, ‘I want them to come play us at home.’” 

Tiara Duffy, Alyssa VanDerveer and Cayla Drotar led South Carolina over a 38-2-1 Seminole team in front of a sellout crowd. The Gamecocks trailed 1-0 but responded in the fourth with a five-run frame, highlighted by a three-run home run from Duffy. 

“I was super excited. I was kinda nervous, but it was cool at the time, cause them being the No. 1 team in the country, and me being a freshman, I knew it was my time,” said Drotar, who started in the circle. “My name was called on and I took every opportunity and every advantage of that. I just had my mind like, go out there and do what I do. I did, and I had a really good game. After that, I remember just feeling like on top of the world because it was such a good feeling to beat the No. 1 team in the country at the time and they were such a good team. I just felt really impressed with myself. I was super happy for my team because they had my back the whole way.”

No. 255 ­— March 23, 2018 vs. No. 2 Tennessee (8-7)

No. 15 South Carolina faced a 7-3 deficit through four and a half innings before storming back. The Lady Vols attempted to intentionally walk Krystan White in the bottom of the seventh with Kenzi Maguire on third, but a wild pitch brought home Maguire to give SC the win. 

“I was ready,” Maguire said. “When I saw it go I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I can’t believe this is happening. I just ran and scored and the team was there waiting, so excited, ready to celebrate.”

Freshman Kelsey Oh, who came on in relief, posted the biggest out of the game in the circle in the top of the seventh with a bases-loaded groundout. 

Tennessee scored two runs each in the fourth and fifth to take a 7-3 lead, but Duffy and Mackenzie Boesel cut the deficit to 7-5 with a solo home runs. Jana Johns set the table for the heroics with a two-out, two-run home run in the sixth to set up the memorable finish. 

The win ended Tennessee’s 22-game win streak.

No. 256 ­— ­March 24, 2018 vs. No. 2 Tennessee (5-4)

South Carolina won again in walk-off fashion the next day. Trailing 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Kennedy Clark hit a ball to left to bring home two runs and give the Gamecocks their third walk-off victory of the season. Drotar (13-1) went all seven innings and earned the victory. 

“I think this shows the grit and the fight our team has,” Smith said that day. “We just have this don’t quit mindset.” 

No. 276 ­— ­May 29, 2018 vs. Hofstra (5-4)

South Carolina came into the game facing season-ending elimination and a pitcher who pitched a perfect game just minutes before to keep the Pride’s season alive. 

Facing a two-out situation with Johns on base and the Pride leading 4-3, White blasted a walk-off home run to send the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament Regional Round championship, the next day, against Liberty.

“Last year was a tough year because we lost [Krystan’s] father, tragically,” Smith said. “… And then add that it’s the first time we get to host Regionals here, which had been a goal of ours, and we find ourselves in the loser’s bracket and down…

“You just talk about a moment. Just unbridled joy. It could have been anybody. But it was Whitey. We have that picture on the wall. Everyone’s mouths are open. Their feet are off the ground. Their hugging, crying. It was awesome.”