COLUMBIA – South Carolina learned Sunday night that it would host an NCAA tournament Regional for the third straight year, while Clemson learned it will travel for the second straight year. On Monday afternoon, both teams learned who they will play in their opening games, on Friday.
And sure enough, for the second straight year, Clemson will visit Columbia to perhaps renew the rivalry on a grand stage.
USC beat Clemson in two Regional games last year to earn a Super Regional berth, on its way to a third straight College World Series. USC this season is trying to make its fourth straight Omaha trip, which would be a school record.
USC will open with Saint Louis, while No. 2 seed Clemson gets No. 3 Liberty, which is coached by former USC assistant Jim Toman. USC opened this season with Liberty and went 2-1 against the Flames.
Clemson was also the No. 2 seed in USC’s Regional last season. USC beat Manhattan in the first round, and Clemson beat Coastal Carolina, to set up the first matchup. The second matchup happened after Clemson beat Coastal Carolina in a losers’ bracket game, to remain alive in the Regional.
This year, USC’s Friday game against Saint Louis will be at 7 p.m., while Clemson-Liberty will be at 1. On Saturday, the winners play at 8, the losers at 2. On Sunday, the losers’ bracket game is at 1, the winners’ bracket game at 7. If a Monday game is needed, it will be at 7. Both of Friday’s games will be on ESPN3.com only. All of the remaining games in the Regional will be on ESPNU as well as ESPN3.com.
USC beat Clemson in two of three games earlier this season in its traveling series, just as it did in the 2011 and 2012 regular season series. In 2010, Clemson won the regular season series, two games to one, but USC got revenge by winning twice in Omaha, on its way to its first national title. Since the beginning of the 2010 College World Series, USC is 10-3 against Clemson.
The winner of the USC Regional gets the winner of the North Carolina Regional, which includes the Tar Heels (the top overall seed in the tournament) playing Canisius in the first round and No. 2 seed Florida Atlantic meeting No. 3 seed Towson.
Saint Louis, which has never played USC, won the Atlantic 10 regular season championship and went 41-19, 17-7 in the league. The Billikens’ 41 wins matched a school record. Saint Louis also won its third Atlantic 10 tournament title.
The Billikens went 1-2 against the top 100 of the Ratings Percentage Index, with their win coming over No. 47 San Diego. Saint Louis finished 72nd in the RPI.
Saint Louis’ two leading hitters are Mike Vigliarolo and Alex Kelly. Vigliarolo is hitting .347 with eight home runs and 40 RBI. Kelly is hitting .340 with 11 homers and 60 RBI. Saint Louis has a team batting average of .307 and a team ERA of 3.58. So offense appears to be Saint Louis’ strength.
USC and Virginia Tech earned Regional host sites on Sunday, while Clemson and Arkansas were sent on the road. The Tigers closed the regular season by losing five straight games, including a 0-3 trip to the ACC tournament.
But none of those five were bad losses. The first two were Florida State, which finished No. 8 in the RPI. In the ACC tournament, the Tigers lost to North Carolina State, North Carolina and Miami — Nos. 7, 1 and 19 in the RPI. Clemson won its first game of the series at Florida State.
Hosting is a big deal for USC because it is historically very successful in NCAA tournament rounds played in Columbia. In terms of whether or not USC won the Regional or Super Regional, it is 18-2 all-time in home NCAA tournament rounds and 3-15 in road rounds.
The only times USC has lost a home NCAA tournament round of any kind – the 1976 Regional and 2000 Super Regional. The only times USC has won a road NCAA tournament round – the 2003 and 2006 Regionals in Atlanta and Charlottesville, Va., and the 2010 Super Regional in Myrtle Beach.
In terms of individual games, USC is 55-8 in all home NCAA tournament games and 35-31 in all road NCAA tournament games. The only teams to beat USC at home in the NCAA tournament are Clemson and Furman in 1976, South Alabama in 1977, Louisiana-Lafayette twice in 2000, Central Florida in 2001, and North Carolina and Miami in 2002.
Since losing to Miami at home in the 2002 NCAA tournament, USC has won 24 consecutive NCAA tournament home games, including clean sweeps of 5-0 in home Regionals and Super Regionals the past two seasons.
A big reason why USC went 30-4 in the NCAA tournament the past three seasons – with two national titles and a national runner-up finish last year – is that the Gamecocks are 13-0 at home over that span in tournament games.
Friday night against Saint Louis, the Gamecocks go for their 25th straight home NCAA tournament win, and another push for Omaha will begin.
The winners of the South Carolina and North Carolina Regionals will play the winners of the North Carolina State and Oregon Regionals in the College World Series opener. Playing at N.C. State are the Wolfpack, Binghamton, William & Mary and Mississippi. Playing at Oregon are the Ducks, South Dakota State, San Francisco and Rice.
As expected, USC did not receive a national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. Of the Gamecocks’ six Omaha trips, four have come after receiving a national seed. The exceptions are 2003, when USC won a home Super Regional, and 2010, when the Gamecocks won a Super Regional over Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach.