Clemson, remarkably consistent except for a four-game losing streak in March and a three-game losing streak in April, has what it takes to reach what might be a Tallahassee Super Regional for the ages.
A healthy South Carolina is way better than the team that is 10th in SEC in hitting (.274 batting average), 11th in pitching (4.31 earned run average) and was snubbed in All-SEC selections.
Coastal Carolina has won 11 of its last 12 games, including two shutouts and a victory at No. 6 national seed North Carolina.
All three Palmetto State teams can win NCAA Tournament regionals.
“Team chemistry and a willingness to sacrifice,” are among the key ingredients South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston pointed out this week.
But the Gamecocks, Tigers and Chanticleers must also deal with stumbling blocks.
ECU and Chris Holba
As the son of Air Force Colonel Bob Holba and his wife Jane, young Chris Holba moved around a lot. He has made the most of it on baseball fields around the world.
He was born in Sindelfingen, Germany.
He hit a grand slam playing for Germany’s Kaiserslautern Military Community team at the 2009 Little League World Series.
He was a slightly built middle-school curveball specialist in Mount Pleasant.
He blossomed into a standout college prospect at O’Fallon Township High School in Illinois and playing travel ball just across the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
Now Holba is a Mount Pleasant resident again, and a 6-3, 210-pound junior right-hander with a 9-1 record and 2.45 earned run average primed to start for host East Carolina on Friday against No. 4 seed UNC-Wilmington.
“It’s fun to see what has happened to a team that has worked so hard,” Bob Holba said. “And they work hard. I played football for a year at the Air Force Academy and their fall workouts are more intense than anything I went through. Chris doesn’t throw 96 or 97 but he gets guys out.”
Holba, an honor roll Economics major, likely will have a tough decision to make after next week’s major league draft if a team likes his upside and size enough to invest a pick before the 15th round.
'MAMA WE MADE IT'
UNC Wilmington’s Kep Brown started slow this season, his first as a Seahawk. But the 6-7, 230-pound draft-eligible sophomore is up to .238 with five homers, including a go-ahead shot against top seed Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association last week.
“Well I woke up this morning and I guess it wasn’t a dream, MAMA WE MADE IT … #CardiacHawks #my people,” Brown tweeted the day after the CAA Tournament.
Holba and Brown, teammates on a Wando High School B-team, did not face each other when ECU beat UNCW twice — 6-4 and 5-4 — this season.
USC’s Hill dilemma
Kingston waited a while before deciding who to start on the mound against No. 3 seed Ohio State on Friday in Greenville, N.C.
Adam Hill is the right call, a junior who leads the team in opponent batting average (.188), innings (75) and strikeouts (92). If the Gamecocks go down with their top 2018 draft prospect — a guy who went seven innings in a Columbia Regional win over Rhode Island in 2016 — it’s hard to fault them.
The coattails of former Clemson head coach Jack Leggett are all over the bracket.
Kevin O’Sullivan, a former Leggett assistant, has defending College World Series champ Florida as the No. 1 national seed.
Vanderbilt is back in the Clemson Regional. Tim Corbin, another former Leggett assistant, led the Commodores to the 2014 national title and won the Clemson Regional last year.
ECU plays at Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium, named in part for late former Pirates head coach Keith LeClair, who played for Leggett at Western Carolina.
CCU’s CWS guys
The Coastal Carolina path to Omaha is via California if the Chanticleers and No. 2 national seed Stanford advance.
But CCU still has seven active players who played on the 2016 national championship team: Hanahan’s Seth Lancaster, Georgetown’s Kevin Woodall Jr., Matt Beaird, Jason Bilous, Zack Hopeck, Kieton Rivers and Cameron Pearcey.
In defense of Beer, Cortes
It’s so much fun to watch Clemson’s Seth Beer and South Carolina’s Carlos Cortes at the plate.
What a shame if the lack of a solid position on defense costs one or both of these guys in the Major League Baseball draft next week. Odd, too, in that they arrived in college with freakish athletic skills: Beer (Baseball America’s No. 57 draft prospect) was once a nationally ranked swimmer; Cortes (No. 177 by Baseball America) played all over the field right-handed but pitched lefty.
Cortes is batting a mere .244 after a sluggish start but leads South Carolina with 15 homers. Beer’s .471 on-base percentage (52 walks, 12 hit by pitch to go with only 31 strikeouts) is as impressive as his 20 homers.
Hope that your favorite big league team gets one of these guys.
Not Ohio State football
Postseason appearances and foes from South Carolina haven’t gone well for Ohio State: 0-3 against Clemson and 0-2 against South Carolina in football bowl games.
But this time the Buckeyes don’t have to go against Danny Ford, Lou Holtz or Dabo Swinney.
A No. 3 seed that went 36-22 doesn’t lack confidence.
“I like our matchup,” third baseman/outfielder Noah McGowan told the Columbus Dispatch.
Outfielder Dominic Canzone said, “We think we have a real good chance of winning at East Carolina.”
Super Regional picks
Clemson at Florida State
South Carolina at Arkansas
Coastal Carolina at Stanford
N.C. State at Florida
UCLA at Oregon State
Texas at Ole Miss
South Florida at North Carolina
Texas Tech at Georgia
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff