June 18, 2012
by Koby Padgett
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Since the start of Southeastern Conference softball, a quaint stadium has hosted South Carolina softball on a site that has been home to the Gamecocks since at least 1983. As of June 7, that facility, currently known as Beckham Field, is no more, taken down to make way for a state-of-the-art stadium that will be ready for the 2013 season. The old grandstand at Beckham Field has seen some of the biggest moments in Gamecock softball history.
Carrying over the name of Lady Gamecock Field in 1997 from its previous setups, the facility saw South Carolina set an NCAA record with 38-consecutive wins. While only 11 victories of those came on the home turf, the record-breaker did, as the Gamecocks outlasted Tennessee in a 1-0, 10-inning thriller. Leanna Troesh stepped up with two outs and singled home Carrie Lyons from second to end the game, setting the NCAA Division I win-streak mark, one that still is the best today. That day also stands out as Joyce Compton's 500th victory at South Carolina, a little past the midway point of her 951 wins as the head coach of the Garnet and Black.
The 1997 season also saw the Gamecocks host an NCAA regional, the fifth time South Carolina had hosted a regional at that point. South Carolina rolled through the event without allowing a run, advancing to the program's third NCAA Women's College World Series.
After the 1997 season, two longtime Gamecock fans had conversations with the athletic administration, wanting to help the team continue the success seen in the historic 1997 season. David and Mitzi Beckham decided they wanted to put lights on the softball field. Those were constructed during the 1998 season, with the first night game coming on April 1, a doubleheader split with Furman.
After that 1998 season, the grandstands expanded over the dugouts, raising the seating capacity to a listed 1,500. The next season, the Beckhams received recognition in a pregame ceremony on April 7, 1999, confirming the name the facility held since the start of the 1998 season, Beckham Field. Receiving a framed photo of the field, the Beckhams and fans watched the Gamecocks shut out Campbell in a doubleheader.
That dedication came four days after another milestone win in Compton's career. The head coach claimed her 800th career victory in the second win of the Kentucky series, one of many milestones she set at the only field she called home. Her 1999 team claimed a share of the SEC Eastern Division crown and advanced to the program's ninth NCAA Regional in history.
The 2000 and 2001 teams also made regional appearances, but it was the 2002 team that brought those NCAA postseason games to Beckham Field for the first time under its new name. In that event, the Gamecocks forced a second championship game against top-ranked UCLA with a 2-1 win on May 19, but the Bruins rebounded to claim the event and the ticket to Oklahoma City with a 1-0 victory. The 2002 season also saw the Gamecocks take their 100th win at the new facility, downing East Tennessee State 8-0 in six innings during the Gamecock Invitational.
The 2003 and 2004 teams also advanced into postseason play, with South Carolina getting shipped both times to Tucson, Ariz. Then came a two-year absence from postseason play. But additions kept coming, as the 2005 squad benefitted from the new covered batting cages.
In 2007, magic happened again in the facility's 10th-anniversary year. First, South Carolina swept Georgia, with the final game, a 6-2 victory, marking the 200th win at Beckham Field. A month later, the Gamecocks hosted their seventh NCAA Regional, drawing North Carolina State, Oregon and Penn State to the park for the weekend. The top-seeded Wolfpack went home at the hands of the Gamecocks, as South Carolina, much like in 2002, fought back from losing the second game to get to Sunday's championship round. After a 2-0 win over 21st-ranked Oregon in game one, the Gamecocks trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth. South Carolina tied the contest on Lindsay Walker's RBI single and Ashton Payne's two-run triple in the sixth. The Gamecocks worked around a leadoff single in Oregon's half of the seventh, setting up the heroics in the last half-inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Jessica Josker singled to left center, giving South Carolina the 4-3 win and the improbable berth into the team's first NCAA Super Regional.
Over the last five years at Beckham Field, new things were added. In 2008, a new Daktronic scoreboard came online, replacing the original board that likely dated back to previous configurations of Lady Gamecock Field. Prior to the 2009 season, nearly 700 permanent chairback seats came over from Sarge Frye Field, the old baseball stadium that lay behind the home dugout at Beckham Field. Before 2011, a new windscreen adorned the outfield wall, honoring some of the great teams from the past. Another banner hung from the back of the third-base grandstand, with the numbers of all the Gamecock All-Americans helping greet the fans entering the stadium. Those improvements came at the direction of new head coach Beverly Smith, who picked up the first win of her head-coaching career at the field, a 10-6 victory over Charleston Southern to start the 2011 campaign.
The first phase of the current reconstruction took place in the summer of 2011, as the turf was ripped out and replaced with a new drainage system, adding a grass skirt around the infield. The Gamecocks benefited from that last season, with only one game being cancelled due to weather conditions in 2012.
In the final weekend at Beckham Field, Smith and the Gamecocks honored the ones responsible for the current setup. Prior to the penultimate game, Mitzi Beckham threw out the first pitch, surrounded by many of the former Gamecock student-athletes that she and David had watched during their years as avid supporters.
Seven times, crowds of over 1,000 filled the stadium. The largest estimated crowd of 2,250 came on May 18, 1997, the day the Gamecocks advanced to the 1997 NCAA Division I Women's College World Series. On 12 occasions, Beckham Field hosted crowds of over 900 fans. In consecutive weekends during 2012, fans numbering 928 and 921 packed into the stadium for SEC games against Tennessee and Auburn, respectively. The last of those two witnessed the last contest in the facility, a 4-1 setback to the Tigers.
And those crowds saw some great moments, starting in the circle. Of the 44 no-hitters documented in South Carolina's storied softball history, 16 came at Beckham Field, including four perfect games. The team also posted 21 one-hit games at home since 1997 and 51 10-or-more strikeout contests in those 16 years.
Also some of the top offensive outings in history came at Beckham Field. The last two two-homer games came from Evan Childs in the bookend years of her career (Feb. 7, 2009 vs. College of Charleston, March 11, 2012 vs. Arkansas). Childs also tied the program high with three doubles against Longwood on Feb. 16, 2010. And McKenna Hughes scored four times against Coastal Carolina on April 28, 2004, tying the single-game runs mark.
Some special individual seasons came at the park, with two of the seven .400 batting averages compiled partly at the stadium. Lauren Lackey's 2012 campaign was the last of those two. Eight of the top nine home-run seasons also came at Beckham Field, including the 11-homer campaigns by Hughes in 2007 and by Childs in 2012. The most wins and strikeouts in a single year by a Gamecock came in 1997 to Trinity Johnson, as she posted 24 shutouts during that 34-win year. The most saves also came in 1999 to Megan Matthews, the season she set a new appearance record for South Carolina.
Five of South Carolina's All-Americans played on the ground there, including 1997 Honda Award for Softball winner Trinity Johnson. And all of the program's 14 All-SEC honorees called Beckham Field home.
All of these records only hit a part of the memories made by many Gamecock student-athletes over the years on the grounds. The good news is the grounds South Carolina Softball has called home for three decades will continue to be just that, as the new structure will stand on the site of so many historic moments.
Thanks to media relations office staff Diana Koval, Justin Holt and Bernice Woodard for editing and Zach Brown for helping with photo archiving.
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