Past, present collide for Lee vs. USC
COLUMBIA -- After Coastal Carolina eliminated the College of Charleston from the NCAA baseball tournament last June in a thriller of a regional, Cougars coach Monte Lee became a lot like many residents in the Palmetto State.
The Gamecocks fan in him emerged, quite naturally.
"I was jumping up and down in the living room by myself. I did it for every game," the Lugoff native said of how he viewed South Carolina's run through the College World Series. "I'm never going to forget where I came from."
Still, Lee would like a victory tonight against the team he grew up supporting -- and still does, 99.9 percent of the time. Lee's Cougars (15-6), scuffling after a winless weekend, visit Ray Tanner's Gamecocks (14-4) today at 7 p.m. at Carolina Stadium.
To the best of his recollection, Lee says tonight will mark the first time he has been back to the stadium since USC won the national championship.
That will stir a few emotions for the former Gamecocks assistant, considering he coached and recruited many of the players who were on the title-winning team. But he's learning to separate himself more and more as time creates a gap between the present and his tenure under Tanner.
"It's always going to be a part of me," Lee said, "but I'm trying to put together a team that can get to the College World Series, too."
Tanner said his heart is divided when it comes to playing friends and former assistants. He enjoys catching up before the game, and he enjoys the competition, but he said the postgame is less than ideal.
"You don't want the other person to lose," Tanner said Monday on a Columbia radio show." "I'm sure if they beat us, Monte would feel the same way.
"He's done a tremendous job at C of C in a short period of time. He's got a great team. … He's an up-and-coming coach; there's no doubt about it."
Fourth-ranked South Carolina has a trip to No. 1 Florida on the horizon. But there's no chance Tanner and the Gamecocks are overlooking the midweek.
"They're loaded. They deserve to be No. 1," Tanner said of Florida. "You just hope your team plays a really great game and they're not at their best. We're looking forward to that challenge. But we know we've got Coach Lee (today) and Rhode Island on Wednesday."
Rhode Island defeated Charleston on Sunday in the Cougar Invitational -- a round-robin event that didn't work out all that well for the home team.
The Cougars, carried typically by their offense, managed a total of five runs in their home park in losses to Southern Miss, Connecticut and URI. Lee said the team got down on itself too quickly in the initial loss, ran into a dominant, hard-throwing starter from UConn and then pressed Sunday against the Rams.
A trip to meet the reigning national champs isn't exactly a slumpbuster.
"I'm glad we're facing good competition," said Lee, whose team this weekend hosts Georgia Southern -- which, in a six degrees sort of game, has knocked off the top-ranked Gators in Gainesville. "We're going to be better because of it."
Senior right-hander Robert Jeroszko (2-1, 3.13 ERA) will start for the Cougs against USC sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes (1-0, 5.00 ERA). Holmes pitched well last week against Wofford. Tanner mentioned him as an option for Sunday's start at Florida, depending on how this evening goes. He also brought up lefty Bryan Harper and closer Matt Price as possible options, but he said a decision will not be made until the weekend.
"It's one of those things you go back and forth on," Tanner said.