With only a few days left before fall football practice begins the new academic year, here is the second half of the lowlights from the last academic year. The first half is here.
5. Kentucky Baseball Series
South Carolina's baseball team had a wonderful year, but during the first weekend it wasn't at all clear that would happen. Kentucky was riding an incredible season opening hot streak and was waiting for the Gamecocks to come to Lexington to open the conference schedule. The Wildcats are not one of the traditional powers, and many people assumed the Gamecocks would take care of business. Many reasoned that Kentucky's early success was due in large part to their weak out of conference schedule (it was) and that USC would put them in their place (they didn't).
Kentucky won the opening game with a walk off home run. The next two games were close, but the Wildcats won them both. No one knew how good Kentucky would eventually be, so until proven otherwise, the series loss was bad. Losing to a hot Kentucky team on the road was one thing, but getting swept was terrible. Of course Ray Tanner and his team didn't panic, and they bounced back for another terrific season, but at the time the loss to Kentucky was painful.
4. Tennessee State Basketball
This game really was another turning point in the Darrin Horn era. Rather than turning upward, this game was indicative of a steady downturn. USC had already lost on the road to Elon in a game Carolina fans were hoping was a fluke. The basketball team was about to return home and play some easier teams. They'd get on track then fans hoped.
That didn't happen. The Gamecocks were down 33-19 at the half and trailed by as many as 22 in the second half. They did come back and had a chance to win it late. Two missed three pointers and a missed field goal all but doomed Carolina with 7 seconds left. When Tennessee State couldn't ice the game, USC regained possession with 5 seconds left but turned the ball over and didn't get a shot off. Tenn State won 64-63 in Columbia. It was an embarrassing loss that should never have happened.
3. Arizona in College World Series
The Arizona Wildcats were a great team and are deserving champions. That needs to be said first. South Carolina didn't play all that badly in the two games of the final series, but they couldn't get their offense going and that proved to be fatal.
This is the 3rd biggest disappointment only because the baseball team set the bar so high. They won 2 straight national titles and 22 straight NCAA games. They came through the losers' bracket twice in three years to reach the finals. At times it seemed inevitable that USC was going to win. It was only going to be a question of who was going to be the hero each night. Eventually the ride had to end, and it was at the hands of Arizona in Omaha.
2. Lattimore's injury
Has any one player meant so much to a program as Marcus Lattimore has meant to South Carolina? He has been such a dominant player during his time in Columbia, and he has elevated the team so much by being on the field that he was seen as integral to Carolina's success. On top of that he has been a model off the field and is insanely popular with the students and fans.
In Starkville Lattimore was out front blocking when his knee was rolled. He tore ligaments and was done for the season. It was a terrible loss that seemed worse at the time. Few could have guessed South Carolina would win all but one of their remaining games without Lattimore, but it was terrible nonetheless.
1. Auburn in football
This lowlight still echoes in the hearts of many Gamecocks. Simply put South Carolina shouldn't have lost this game. They only scored 13 points, but they only allowed 16 on 90+ plays. The loss was devastating to Carolina's chances to win the SEC East, and it signaled the end of the Stephen Garcia era. It was twice as painful since Carolina had lost to Auburn twice the year before. In one game in Auburn Carolina held a lead and could have won. In Atlanta, USC was embarrassed. It's still difficult to explain how this game was lost, but an abandonment of the running game didn't help, and Auburn's determination to stick with the run certainly made a difference. Even writing some 9 months later this game makes me think of what could have been.