COLUMBIA — A few minutes after noon on Monday, South Carolina’s baseball players knew what was about to happen next. They sat in a room at Carolina Stadium, their eyes fixed on the television screen, which broadcast the NCAA tournament’s selection show. They took notice when Georgia Tech was slotted as the No. 2 seed in Florida’s regional.
That meant another No. 2 seed from this area of the country would head to USC’s regional this weekend, and the Gamecocks figured that team would be none other than Clemson, their heated rival. Sure enough, the Tigers’ name popped up on the screen in USC’s regional moments later — just a couple seconds after the Gamecocks learned they got the eighth and final national seed.
It was an emotional, but quick, sequence of events, with the revelation of USC getting a national seed for the fifth time, and the possibility of one of this NCAA tournament’s juiciest matchups looming on Saturday at 4 p.m. — USC-Clemson, Part IV.
For as much as USC’s players insist they won’t look past Friday’s 4 p.m. tournament opener against Manhattan, they enjoyed seeing Clemson’s name appear in their four-team regional.
“We were pretty pumped up,” said ace pitcher Michael Roth. “It was just jubilation, I guess, in the room.”
Should the Gamecocks advance out of the regional, they are guaranteed to host a two-team, best-of-three Super Regional, because they received a national seed. They would play the winner of Virginia’s Regional, which also includes Army, Oklahoma and Appalachian State.
A national seed is by no means a ticket to the College World Series. In 1999, the NCAA tournament expanded from 48 to 64 teams and adopted the Super Regionals and national seeds. In the 13 tournaments conducted under this format, 65 of 108 national seeds have reached the World Series – 60.2 percent.
USC has generally positive results, with one major blemish, when receiving a national seed. The Gamecocks were No. 1 in 2000 and lost in the Super Regional at home, No. 6 in 2002 and were national runners-up, No. 2 in 2004 and made the World Series and No. 4 last year and won it all – as they did in 2010, when they did not receive a national seed.
But first comes this weekend, and Saturday’s potential meeting with Clemson. USC went 2-1 against Clemson in their traveling regular season series, with the Tigers’ lone win coming in Clemson, in the series finale. USC is 4-3 all-time against Clemson in the NCAA tournament.
USC won twice in both the 2002 and 2010 College World Series. The final win both times pushed USC into the championship game or series. Clemson’s wins came in the 1976 Regional in Columbia and twice in the 1980 Regional in Clemson.
The 1976 victory is notable because it, followed by a loss later that day to Furman, resulted in USC being eliminated from a home Regional. If you combine all rounds USC has ever played in the NCAA tournament before the College World Series – the old Regional, new Regional and Super Regional – the Gamecocks are 16-2 at home and 3-15 on the road. In the old Regional, USC was 5-1 at home. The Gamecocks are 7-0 at home in the new Regional.
For what it’s worth, USC has history and a hot streak on its side as it tries to become the second team to win three straight national titles. The Gamecocks are 21-1 in the past two NCAA tournaments, and have won an NCAA-record 16 consecutive tournament games.
But their pitching situation is uncertain, as No. 2 starter Forrest Koumas aggravated a stress fracture in his elbow, which will eventually require surgery, at the SEC tournament. USC coach Ray Tanner isn’t sure if he will be able pitch this weekend. Tanner also hasn’t decided whether Roth will start Friday or Saturday. Tanner will start Colby Holmes at some point. Jordan Montgomery, the former No. 2 starter, could start if Koumas can’t.
“I’m not sure about anything right now with that situation,” Tanner said.
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