When College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee woke up Monday morning he was almost certain his weekend travel plans would involve heading out to an Southeastern Conference city.
Where: McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Schedule: Friday: No. 2 Long Beach State (32-24) vs. No. 3 North Carolina (34-25), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
No. 1 Florida (40-21) vs. No. 4 College of Charleston (41-17), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
Tickets: GatorZone.com/tickets. 1-800-344-2867, ext. 6800.
Lee's intuition about playing an SEC opponent proved to be 100 percent accurate. It was just the team that he got wrong.
The College of Charleston will face Florida, the No. 2 national seed in the NCAA tournament, Friday at 7 p.m. at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., in the opening round of the Gainesville Regional. Long Beach State, the second seed in the Gainesville Regional, will face No. 3 seed North Carolina at 1 p.m.
Like most observers, Lee felt the Cougars' NCAA destiny would land them in Columbia playing against South Carolina.
"I knew they could put us in to a variety of places," Lee said. "I just know that we're excited to still be playing baseball and be a part of the 64-team field."
Charleston's 41 wins are the most of any team in the Gainesville Regional, but the Cougars enter as the No. 4 seed, despite capturing the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title on Saturday.
Florida (40-21), North Carolina (34-25) and Long Beach State (32-24), however, had RPI rankings better than the Cougars. The Cougars finished the season No. 53 in the RPI rankings. Two years ago, the Cougars earned an at large bid to the NCAA tournament as a third-seed with a No. 48 RPI ranking.
By comparison, South Carolina will face Campbell, which has a No. 67 RPI ranking, in its opening game Friday. Unlike the Gators, the Gamecocks are not one of the eight nationally seeded teams in the tournament. Clemson, which will play in the Nashville Regional, is a No. 3 seed and was No. 49 in the latest RPI rankings.
"I think a few of the guys were a little upset about being a four-seed, they thought we should have been a three-seed, especially since we won our conference tournament," said Cougars outfielder Brandon Murray. "I think some of the guys might have a little chip on their shoulders, but I'm just happy we're still playing baseball. I didn't care who we played as long as we were playing."
If Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan was upset about facing such a tough opening-round opponent, he didn't make it public. O'Sullivan hinted that the Gators will start their top pitcher - freshman Logan Shore (7-1, 2.08 ERA) - against the Cougars.
"Nothing surprises me any more about the selection process," said O'Sullivan, who was an assistant coach at Clemson from 1999-2007. "There are arguments that can be made a hundred different ways. I told our team, to be honest with you, this is the regional we need. We tend to play up to our competition or down to our competition. I think playing a team like Charleston takes a lot of the guess work out of who you throw opening night. You want to keep your rotation the same as it's been for most of the season. We're going to treat it like we're playing a really good team because we are playing a really good team.
"They're a really hot team right now. I'm not going to compare our regional to anyone else's regional. The decision was made and we've got three really good teams in our regional. I know Monte and his staff do a really good job and they'll will be prepared and ready to go."
This is the second time in the last three seasons that Cougars will take part in the Gainesville Regional. The last one coming in 2012, when the Cougars were a third-seed. In 2012, the Cougars lost to Georgia Tech, 8-4, before eliminating Bethune-Cookman, 8-2. In Sunday's elimination game, the Yellow Jackets defeated the Cougars, 3-0. Florida eventually went on to win the regional. The Cougars and Gators have met twice, with Florida winning both games in Gainesville in 2002.
"We've been to Gainesville before, it's a field some of the guys are familiar with," Lee said. "The only downside is that we've got only three or four guys from that 2012 team that played in Gainesville."
Lee said he's not sure who will start against the Gators. Taylor Clarke, who leads the Cougars pitching staff with 10 wins, or freshman Bailey Ober, the CAA Rookie of the Year and CAA tournament MVP.
"We'll take a look at it and figure out what we're going to do," Lee said.
The Cougars earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the CAA tournament in Charleston's first year in the league this past weekend. The Cougars swept last week's tournament with a win over host UNC Wimington and two wins over top-seeded William & Mary. The tournament championship was just the second title all-time for Charleston, and first since 2006 when the Cougars won the Southern Conference Tournament.