COLUMBIA - South Carolina will descend upon Hoover, Ala., this week for the SEC baseball tournament, and it won't be thinking about what's next.
At least that's what coach Chad Holbrook hopes. There's a championship to win. A history of SEC tourney flameouts to atone. Too much at stake - pride, mostly - to be distracted thinking about a national seed in the NCAA tournament.
"(We're) going to go down to Hoover to play in a tournament, participate and try to win, not thinking anything about national seed," Holbrook said this week during a teleconference with league coaches. "We're not going to give that any thought. We're going to go down there and try to win the SEC tournament, try to win our first game. That's 100 percent of our focus and attention."
The No. 4-seed Gamecocks will open the double-elimination tournament approximately 8 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday night's game between Georgia and Mississippi State at Hoover Met Stadium.
Holbrook would like the trip to Hoover to last as long as possible. Still, the coach wrestles with two contradictory facts.
South Carolina will compete for more important hardware next week.
Success at the SEC tournament doesn't necessarily transfer to the NCAA tournament.
Just look at recent history. South Carolina is 2-8 in the SEC tournament since 2010. During that time, the Gamecocks have won two national championships and played for another.
"You can look at it a number of different ways," Holbrook said. "Here's how I'm going to look at it ... we're playing against some incredible competition. You have a chance to better your resume, you have a chance to win a conference championship.
"Does it determine how you're going to do in the NCAA tournament by how you perform in Hoover? No. We're living proof of that."
South Carolina hasn't won multiple games in Hoover since 2007. Its only SEC tournament championship was a decade ago, though the 2004 Gamecocks did advance to the College World Series.
Holbrook can say the Gamecocks are pushing thoughts of a national seed to the furthest corners of their minds this week. That won't erase the NCAA implications.
South Carolina enters Hoover on the fringe of earning a national seed, and the home-field advantage through the regionals and super regionals that comes with it. USC jumped four spots to No. 8 in the RPI after winning a huge road series at Vanderbilt this week. Still, Vanderbilt is No. 6 in the RPI, and Ole Miss is No. 12.
The SEC will likely get two national seed bids, and SEC regular-season champion Florida's spot appears to be a lock. With a good week, the Commodores or Rebels potentially could jump South Carolina for the conference's second bid.
"Winning the road series cements South Carolina as a regional host and puts the Gamecocks right in the thick of the national seed race," Aaron Fitt of Baseball America wrote Saturday. "That race is far from decided; the Gamecocks could use a strong showing in Hoover to secure them as a national seed, especially if it comes down to South Carolina and Ole Miss for one national seed."
South Carolina isn't looking that far ahead. Not now. Not with a conference championship to win.
At least, that's what Holbrook hopes.
"I think our team has done everything we could possibly do under the circumstances to put ourselves in position to be a national seed," Holbrook said. "I think we're deserving, but yet at the same point in time we have games to play, and we've got work to do. So let's go down to Hoover and play our best baseball. We can't really worry about things we can't control."
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