COLUMBIA - The bracket was freshly released, analysts still dissecting matchups when Campbell coach Greg Goff huddled his players Tuesday.
The Fighting Camels were beginning their first NCAA regional practice in 14 years. Matched against a South Carolina opponent that has advanced to six College World Series in that time, expectations could've been low.
Goff made sure they weren't.
"From the time we started stretching, I just let them know, 'Guys, we're not going down there for a party. We're going down there to win. We're going down there to get this thing on and compete and to see what happens,'" Goff said. "So they got it from me from the first day. We believe we can come down here, if we play really well and get some balls to bounce our way. . We believe in ourselves."
It's the same mantra every hopeful carries this time of year. It's easy to believe, sitting in the quiet of Thursday's pre-regional news conference. When the stands fill up Friday night, and the stadium lights shine down from above, it'll take something more than belief to do what Campbell hopes to accomplish.
Top seed South Carolina will host No. 4 Campbell at 7 p.m. Friday when it opens the NCAA Columbia Regional at Carolina Stadium. The Fighting Camels may have their confidence. The Gamecocks have a 27-game home postseason winning streak that dates back to 2002. They've won each of their 16 postseason games at Carolina Stadium.
Nobody on Campbell's roster has ever played in an environment like what they'll face Friday. South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook has seen opponents wilt under the pressure so many times, the routine has grown familiar.
"We wouldn't have the postseasons we've had around here, the success around home, without our fans on their feet making it very difficult for the opponent," Holbrook said. "The atmosphere that they've been able to create and help us will some games away, will ourselves to win games that maybe were in the balance here and there, that's a very, very unique setting in college baseball. And we're very, very lucky to perform in it."
Holbrook hesitated to single out some of his favorite memories of home postseason games - "that may minimize the ones that I forget," he said - but they're hard to forget.
Connecticut never had a chance under the intensity of the NCAA Columbia Super Regional in 2011. Clemson came close in the NCAA Columbia Regional of 2012, but couldn't quite get over the hump.
"You couldn't hear yourself think in some of them, they were so loud," Holbrook said. "Obviously, that creates some momentum. I think your players tend to play a little bit better when they're playing in front of that type of atmosphere.
"There's just a feeling that you get when it gets loud, and the momentum it creates in your dugout."
South Carolina's weekend guests didn't back away from the pressure Thursday.
Old Dominion coach Chris Finwood vowed his team wouldn't be affected by any kind of atmosphere. Maryland coach John Szefc said he was thrilled to play a regional inside an SEC ballpark, with better facilities, louder crowds and more excitement.
Still, history shows a late-May road trip to Columbia is nothing for a baseball coach to smile about. Twenty-seven straight postseason wins for South Carolina in Columbia. It's a daunting obstacle to overcome.
"I didn't even know that to be honest with you," Maryland coach John Szefc said of the streak. Then he paused. "Well, it'd be pretty neat to mess that up, huh?"
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