COLUMBIA - When the NCAA regional pairings were announced Monday, South Carolina players scrambled to learn something - or anything - about their upcoming opponent.
Few had ever watched Campbell play. The Big South champions may be one of two No. 4 seeds in this year's NCAA tournament to win 40 games, joining College of Charleston. They're strangers to most of college baseball, making their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1990.
"All I really know is that they're the Camels," junior catcher Grayson Greiner said. "That's all I pretty much know."
The Fighting Camels, to be exact. Not that anyone would notice the difference.
No. 1 South Carolina will open its NCAA tournament 7 p.m. Friday against No. 4 Campbell at Carolina Stadium. The Gamecocks will be heavy favorites, but coach Chad Holbrook knows better than to overlook those Camels.
Holbrook could teach his players plenty about the tiny team from rural North Carolina. When USC had an open date in its schedule because of a makeup game last season, Holbrook spoke with Campbell coach Greg Goff about possibly setting a date.
Ultimately, he decided to keep Campbell off the schedule.
"We're very aware of the program they have at Campbell," Holbrook said. ". We about played them, and I chose not to play them, because, one, they might beat our tail and they might do more harm than good. They're used to winning. What they've done the past couple years there is extremely impressive."
South Carolina and Campbell will be joined in the Columbia Regional by No. 2 Maryland and No. 3 Old Dominion, which play 1 p.m. Friday. The regional's winner will face the winner of the Charlottesville Regional, where No. 3 national seed Virginia is the host.
South Carolina will be hosting its fifth straight NCAA Regional. It's become something of an annual tradition in the state's capital.
Holbrook said the adversity his team navigated to arrive at this point should not be overlooked.
"To host a regional here in Columbia is no small feat," Holbrook said. "I know some people might take it for granted. I think we've hosted 16 in the history of our program and had several in a row here. It's not an easy task in our league. What our players have accomplished is very significant in my eyes."
Holbrook called the Columbia Regional a "huge challenge," far from a gimme.
Second-seeded Maryland is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning its final nine regular-season games and 11 of its final 13. In the ACC tournament, the Terrapins beat national seeds Virginia and Florida State in back-to-back games.
"I've talked with several coaches in the ACC, and to a man, they all said, 'You don't want to play Maryland,' " Holbrook said. "So I know we have great teams in our regional. We have a heck of a challenge ahead of us, and our players are excited to be playing at home."
South Carolina could be the final head-to-head opponent for Maryland before moving from the ACC to Big Ten in August. The Gamecocks aren't looking that far ahead, at least not yet.
First, USC must prepare for its next opponent. The lack of familiarity isn't necessarily a bad thing. For the first time in two years, in-state rival Clemson won't make a postseason trip to Columbia.
"My first two years, we had Clemson. So it's nice not to have that craziness around here," Greiner said. "We kind of get to focus on baseball and not the rivalry."
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