The coaches and players were introduced to thundering applause, with the biggest cheers reserved for Coach Ray Tanner, who lifted the trophy for all of Gamecock Nation to see. He thanked the fans for providing his team with passion, enthusiasm and resolve.
USC Board of Trustees chairman Miles Loadholt, athletics director Eric Hyman and players Jay Brown, Kyle Enders, Blake Cooper, Jackie Bradley Jr., Whit Merrifield and Scott Wingo addressed the crowd. (Cooper to cries of “Cooooop”; Merrifield to chants of “One More Year” from the crowd, hopeful that the USC junior will put off Major League Baseball a little while longer.) The players thanked their families, their coaches, the university and mostly their fans, who Brown called “the best in the country.”
And the fans were thrilled to be there, to be part of the university’s first national championship in a men’s team sport.
“We had to celebrate and support the team. We love the Gamecocks, and we love baseball,” said Jennifer Clary of Columbia. She met her husband, Matthew, while they were students at Carolina. With them at the arena Monday were their 17-month-old triplets –Benjamin, Cole and Austin – each dressed in a Gamecock baseball uniform. (The boys attended five USC games this year, with a 4-1 record.)
“We are ready to start these boys up right,” said the triplets’ grandmother, Elaine Clary. “This is a Gamecock family.”
And the celebration continues. The city of Columbia will honor the team Friday with a downtown parade. The parade begins at noon at Main and Laurel streets and ends at Main and Gervais.