FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — While Arkansas circled the field celebrating the recently punched College World Series ticket, South Carolina huddled silently together in shallow right field.
No one could hear what was being said, but as the huddle broke and teary-eyed players walked back to the dugout, there were a few groups still together.
One was the seniors who’d just finished their last game at South Carolina, ending one of the most memorable postseason runs despite falling one win away from their ultimate goal.
“To see those guys be so devastated, to me that shows that they are vested and they gave us everything they had,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “They wouldn't be hurting so bad if they hadn't put so much into it. To me, the investment leads to that kind of disappointment, but that's a good thing.”
The group of five seniors — Jonah Bride, Justin Row, Hunter Taylor, Madison Stokes and Matt Williams — were in danger of missing the postseason the last two years on campus but led the charge as the Gamecocks rattled off 17 wins over the last seven weeks of the season, which included a berth in the super regionals.
For some, like Row, it was their first and only postseason and for all of them it was the last chance to make it to Omaha, a place that’s been elusive to South Carolina for the last six seasons.
While they didn’t make that ultimate goal, this kind of run, especially for the seniors who won’t get this chance again, was what Taylor called “unbelievable.”
“It was everything and then some. Just where we were at midway through the season and the run we put together at the end was something special. I’ll never forget it,” Row said, fighting back tears. “Everything on this ride has been special. I’ll never forget it.”
Now the group of five will split up with at least three — Bride, Taylor and Stokes — going off now to start professional baseball careers. For Row and Williams, who didn’t get drafted, their futures are still up in the air.
So it’s natural that as they left the field they got emotional knowing this was the last time they’d all share the field together.
“I’d give my life for any of those guys. I’d take a bullet in the head for any of those guys every day. They’re best friends I’ll have the rest of my life,” Taylor said. “I’m going to miss playing on the field with them more than anything.”
It was the second time four of the five seniors played in a super regional, and they got further than any team over the last five seasons has: one win from the College World Series.
They just ran into one of the hottest teams in the country, a team head coach Mark Kingston said is “clearly one of the best teams in America.”
So when he gathered his team one final time in the outfield Monday night, he told players he loved them and they broke one more time as their season ended.
“It was special run for sure,” Bride said. “From a low point way down in the season to come back where we needed to, we just ran into the best team in the country.”