Certainly, the fall, the Grove and Rebel football in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium hold all our hearts at bay. But equally as impressive and anticipated, for my money, is playoff baseball at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.
"Some people think South Carolina has as good a baeball atmosphere as we do," said triumphant Rebel Coach Mike Bianco after his team defeated Jacksonville State 12-2 in the regional nightcap, "but really, it's just us and LSU, in my opinion, who has this kind of atmosphere."
My sentiments exactly.
Think about it.
A huge college baseball stadium packed to the gills with enthusiastic faithful. . .
. . . beer showers in right field after a Rebel bomb. . .
. . . the smell of ribs and burgers wafting in from the left field lounge. . .
. . . girls in shorts. . .
. . . "throw it in the dirt," thanks Chip Clinton. . .
. . . a beautiful, manicured field with no blade of grass unattended. . .
. . . "The Love Is Gone" fan participation. . .
. . . tanned girls in shorts. . .
. . . kids having a ball in the playground area. . .
. . . "Hotty Toddy" ringing throughout. . .
. . . HD video board with Peanut Butter-Jelly Time. . . .
. . . a lineup with no easy outs. . .
. . . beautiful girls in shorts. . .
. . . umpire razzing with every close call that doesn't go the Rebs' way. . .
. . . a team of "dirtbags" who like the game gritty. . .
. . . coaches from other sports supporting. "Hey, Freeze, what's up?". . .
. . . "Sweet Caroline." Neil Diamond? Go figure, but it's part of the scene. . .
. . . plenty of live arms on the pitching staff. . .
. . . aggressive coaches - sometimes more than some fans would prefer. . .
. . . and last, but not least, the prettiest women on the planet in shorts.
What's not to love?
Ask Jacksonville State's right-fielder Griff Gordon, the Gamecocks' leading hitter.
"It was tough in right field with the beer showers and taunting, but it's an atmosphere I'll never forget," he said. "How could you not love being here in this venue? Awesome."
Despite the grousing on the internet message boards by a minority after every single loss, the fannies in the seats don't lie - Rebel fans love their Reb baseball, especially playoff baseball.
Certainly, the game itself is the main attraction and the Rebels didn't disappoint in their regional lidlifter.
Reb RHP Chris Ellis, now 10-1 on the year, went the distance and after a shaky first inning, he was basically lights out.
"The hits he gave up in the first inning were my fault," said Bianco. "The changeups were my calls and that's what they hit. After that, we abandoned the change and went fastball-curve and they were both working for him as well as they have in some time."
How important is not using but one arm in the opener of a regional? Very.
Ellis gave up one run in the first, but the Rebel bats responded with a five-spot in the bottom of the inning.
It was the start of first baseman Sikes Orvis' big night, which included a two-run double in the first frame and a beer shower-producing two-run dinger in the sixth.
And the crowd was rocking.
In all, the Rebs ended with 17 hits scattered throughout a productive, aggressive and potent lineup.
"We wanted to get things going early to get our crowd into it, so we were really aggressive at the plate and how we coached," Bianco noted.
It worked well.
The Rebs were also flawless in the field and were spurred by a couple of 6-4-3 double dips initiated by slick-fielding shortstop Errol Robinson.
Overall, it was just what Bianco ordered - focused, aggressive and decisive.
"We talked about being locked into the moment. I thought we took an aggressive, businesslike approach and played very well," he said.
And the congregation said "amen."
Now the stakes get higher and the requirements remain the same - focus and taking care of business on the diamond.
They face - at 3 p.m. Sunday - Washington, also an impressive winner on the first day with an 8-0 shelling of Georgia Tech.
"They are a really good club who finished second in a great baseball conference," Bianco concluded.
It will be another great day at Swayze because it's bonus baseball, Ole Miss style.
A predominant, big Rebel crowd ready to shower the Rebs with support, and sometimes beer, will be there in Red.
There's nothing quite like it.
Nothing Quite Like It
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