COLUMBIA, S.C. — As Campbell coach Greg Goff gathered his players along the right field line after the fourth-seeded Camels’ season ended with a 9-0 loss to South Carolina in the Columbia Regional Sunday afternoon, things turned emotional. He had to say goodbye to a group of nine seniors that won 17 games four years ago but this season won the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament game before bowing out to the top-seeded Gamecocks in an elimination game.
That senior group rebounded to win 41, 49 and 41 games over the past three seasons, the most successful three-year run in school history. But the sting of the season ending still hurts.
“Anytime you end your season like we did, it’s tough, very emotional,” Goff said. “One thing about Campbell, we’re very tight. You saw our guys and the relationship they have. It’s a small town with not a whole lot to do, so you hang out a lot. Seeing those seniors go by today was tough, but I’m thankful for what they did for our program. I’m very excited that hopefully we’ll use this stage to trampoline and look forward to some more great years.”
The Camels didn’t let the disappointment of last season carry over. They missed the NCAA tournament despite a 49-10 record but showed they more than belonged this season. The Camels won their first-ever NCAA tournament game on Saturday when they eliminated Old Dominion.
Campbell came up short in two games against South Carolina but earned the Gamecocks’ respect in the process.
“They probably aren’t as athletic and strong and gifted as some people that we play, but that’s not a knock on them,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “They are well-coached, have a plan and play defense. The pitchers know what they’re doing in using both sides of the plate. They’re no easy out by no stretch of the imagination. They should have been in the NCAA tournament last year. That was a crock, to be honest with you, that they weren’t in it with all the games they won.”
Goff said the snub was heartbreaking, but to see a new group finish with a 41-21 record and a Big South Championship is rewarding.
“The way we fought in the (Big South) tournament last week until today is amazing,” he said. “These players and what they’ve done for this program, you can’t put a price tag on the opportunity to come play at this type of facility, in this regional, with this awesome fan base, makes me thankful. I’m looking forward to using this to get back. Hopefully people will respect that we’ve won 40 games three years in a row and the committee will look at our program differently.”
Senior pitcher Ryan Koopman only pitched 27 innings the past two years but rebounded this season to go 8-2 and become a reliable No. 3 starter. He started against the Gamecocks and took the loss in his final game but reflected on how far the program has come.
“To see this program completely turn around, to see the facilities our administration got us and to see where we’re at now is amazing. It’s a blessing and awesome.
“It’s awesome to be able to have this kind of stage and to play at this level is great, fantastic.”
South Carolina (44-17) jumped on the Camels quickly. The Gamecocks got a run in the third before plating four in the fourth to take control.
Koopman allowed a single and walk to open the inning before Connor Bright delivered an RBI double. Another walk loaded the bases and ended Koopman’s afternoon before he could record an out in the fourth.
Tanner English greeted reliever Bobby Thorson with a RBI single before the Camels turned a 1-2-3 double play. It looked like Thorson was going to get out of it without any further damage but Clayton Brown couldn’t come up with a diving catch in right field on a ball off the bat of Max Schrock, and two runs scored to make it 5-0.
Thorson did all he could to give Campbell a chance until he faltered in the ninth inning, allowing four straight hits that ended his afternoon after 5 1/3 innings of work. South Carolina added four runs in the inning to complete the scoring.
That didn’t matter much with the the performance of South Carolina pitcher Wil Crowe: The freshman finished with a complete-game four hitter with four strikeouts and no walks in his 101-pitch outing. The Camels never got a runner past second base against the hard-throwing right-hander.
“From the first pitch, he was in command,” Goff said.