COLUMBIA — LB Dantzler homered and drove in two runs Friday, and South Carolina made coach Chad Holbrook’s debut a success with a 4-3 victory over Liberty.
The Gamecocks won their season opener for the 22nd time in 23 years. But not before a rousing pre-game tribute to former coach and current athletic director Ray Tanner.
It was the first time since the 1997 season Tanner hadn’t been in the dugout.
He had his No. 1 jersey retired and the street running in front of Carolina Stadium was renamed “Tanner Way” in honor of the coach who won the College World Series in 2010 and 2011.
Dantzler put the Gamecocks up for good with a solo homer in the second. He added a RBI sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and South Carolina eventually led 4-0.
The Flames scored three times in the eighth to tighten things up, but Tyler Webb got the final five outs to give Holbrook a victory in his first game as head coach after 19 seasons as an assistant.
“I won a game here, that’s pretty cool,” Holbrook said. “It means a lot.”
First, though, came a final goodbye to Tanner, whose bid for a third consecutive national crown last year ended with a loss to Arizona in the College World Series championship series.
Tanner and his family stood between home plate and the pitcher’s mound as Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin and several state leaders offered tributes. There was a video retrospective from Tanner’s introduction following the 1996 season through his six trips to Omaha to chase the title.
His jersey was the first to be retired and his name and No. 1 were painted on the wall in left field. Both on-deck circles also contained Tanner’s name and number.
When it was over, Tanner thanked the sold-out crowd and said it was many more people than him who were responsible for South Carolina’s success.
“I am forever grateful and hope to be around here for many, many years to come,” he said. “Now, it’s time. Let’s play some baseball.”
Tanner’s first game from the stands was a close one. Liberty had the tying and go-ahead runs on in the eighth when Webb struck out Danny Grauer.
“I wanted to ruin his day,” said Liberty coach Jim Toman, a former player and assistant under Tanner.
The Gamecocks were far from perfect. They were outhit, eight to five, and made three errors. Still, they were able to hang on in the season opener.
Dantzler said it was odd at first to not see Tanner in the dugout – the athletic director watched from a seat to the left of the home dugout – but the players adjusted as the game went along.
Tanner had purposely stayed away from the baseball complex during the fall during workouts. He was at the stadium Thursday to speak with his former players and wish them well.
“I wouldn’t say it was emotional,” Dantzler said. “But it was definitely good to have him back.”
Jordan Montgomery threw six scoreless innings for the victory while Webb earned his first save taking over for Matt Price, the school’s alltime leader in that category who gave up his final season to turn pro.
Liberty starter Carson Herndon allowed only one run in five innings, but took the loss.