Smoak, Gamecocks aiming for Omaha
When Justin Smoak decided to sign with the South Carolina Gamecocks out of high school rather than Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics, he did so with much fanfare. The 6'4", 215 pound first baseman's much-hyped prep career saw him become co-Mr. Baseball in South Carolina, along with current teammate Reese Havens, after he concluded his illustrious career with an exceptional senior campaign.
That senior year saw him bat .558 while hitting 18 home runs and 49 RBI. Those numbers also led to him being named to the 2005 ABCA, Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball All-American teams.
The Stratford High School standout's staggering production has continued through his two-year career at South Carolina as he wasted no time setting freshman school records with 17 homers and 63 RBI. Now as Smoak begins his third year in the program, he ascends on bigger and better records as the multi-tooled star will likely break the school's all time home run and RBI records. With 39 dingers in his first two seasons Smoak is just 10 home runs short of breaking Hank Small's record of 48, set in 1972-75. Smoak's 135 career RBI also leave him just 64 short of breaking Mac White and Chris Boyles' all time mark.
Even with the incredible numbers, Smoak is always looking to better himself.
"There's a lot of things I can do to get better. I've had good years, but I haven't had the years I've wanted to have here. There's always things you can do to get better."
When Smoak is asked about the records he is still quick to direct the spot light to the team and his teammates.
"I've got personal goals for myself, but team-wise hopefully we'll get a chance to play in another Regional, Super Regional, and hopefully get back to Omaha."
While all of the individual records he will likely break are impressive, Smoak and the highly-ranked class he came in with have come up short in one area: championships. With many baseball publications ranking the Gamecocks in the top 10 in the country this preseason the expectations are high and anything short of an SEC Championship and return trip to Omaha could be considered a disappointment.
Smoak says this team has dealt with pressure and high expectations before and they know how to respond to it.
"There's always been a little pressure. I've always had pressure on me since I've been here," Smoak said. "But I'm used to it and hopefully this year we'll go out and have fun and play hard and at the end of the year let it take care of itself."
The Goose Creek, SC native may be humble, but he is not shy about what this team is capable of doing this season.
"It could be (the best team in the country). Definitely. We've got a great pitching staff and a great defense in the field behind them," Smoak said. "We just have to play hard and play well together. The last couple of years we've been close, we just haven't been able to finish it out. So hopefully this year we'll get that chance, and hopefully we'll finish it out this year."
Smoak says the team has used the fact they had their last two seasons ended at the Super Regionals to their advantage.
"We've been not just a game away, but innings away (from Omaha). It definitely motivates us."
While Smoak is considered by many to be a sure-fire first round pick, he is not quite ready to announce this as his last season in the garnet and black.
"It's definitely going to be a great year for us. We've worked hard all fall and all spring, so far," Smoak said. "We've got a couple of guys who have a situation where they could possibly get drafted after this year, but we're just going to go out there and have fun and at the end of the year let it take care of itself."
With most of the South Carolina infield consisting of likely high draft picks, many consider this to be the team's last shot in the near future at bringing a National Title to Columbia. Despite the added pressure of this declaration, Smoak says it doesn't feel much different than his other two seasons at USC.
"Not really, it feels a little bit different, when you're one of the older guys, now. Having the chance to lead this team, it's great. It's been an honor."
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