Collision course? As No. 4 national seed, USC would also host super regional

The Gamecocks knocked off Clemson last year in Omaha on their way to the College World Series title.

Dave Weaver

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's baseball team won 31 games this season at Carolina Stadium. The defending national champions will need five more victories at home to get back to Omaha and the College World Series.

The Gamecocks (45-14) learned Monday they are the No. 4 national seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning they have earned the right to play at home for the regional and super regional rounds of the tournament.

And if things play to form, USC would meet Clemson in a best-of-three super regional series next weekend at Carolina Stadium. But first things first.

South Carolina opens double- elimination regional play at 7 p.m. Friday against Georgia Southern (36-24). The SoCon tournament

champs are the regional's No. 4 seed.

"I've got to think Georgia Southern is the best No. 4 seed in the country, based on a quick look at the bracket," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "It's a tough regional."

No. 2 seed Stetson (41-18) and 3 seed North Carolina State (34-25) will begin the Columbia Regional at 1 p.m. Friday.

Stetson, the Atlantic Sun regular season champ, was on the verge of being a regional host until a few late-season setbacks. N.C. State, Tanner's alma mater, has been up and down all season, though it did defeat Florida State last week and take a series from Clemson earlier in the season.

The Wolfpack bounced USC in the 2008 regional, in Raleigh. Tanner said he spoke Sunday with N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, with both men anticipating the Pack being in Columbia.

"I think it's a very difficult field, no question about it," Tanner said.

Tanner said he and pitching coach Jerry Meyers are unsure who will start Friday's game, or what the weekend rotation will look like. Ace Michael Roth was bullish last week about taking the ball in the first game of the SEC tourney -- and he threw a complete game against Auburn, the staff's first of the year -- but he was far more reserved Monday about his plan for the week ahead.

Asked about the potential of seeing Clemson in the second round, Tanner didn't take the bait.

"We realize we're matched up together, but I certainly think they've got a couple of teams to contend with up there and we've got a very difficult field," he said. "We're concentrating right now on focusing on Georgia Southern."

The Gamecocks took two of three earlier this season in the teams' series, but it took all USC had to win the deciding game in Greenville. The weekend got rather contentious after Clemson coach Jack Leggett accused USC's players of heating their bats, something that is not currently against the rules. Tanner was fiery after the series' final game.

To form, Roth provided an honest perspective about the prospects of a rematch -- with a CWS berth on the line.

"Some of the guys have looked ahead," Roth said. "I'm sure you guys (reporters) would love it if we played them in a super regional. I'm not saying we wouldn't, but the media would have a field day. That's for sure."

After going 1-2 in the SEC tourney, losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia, the Gamecocks are interested in getting back on the field -- for a game. Tanner said the team has practiced and worked out since Saturday.

It's still an improvement from a year ago, when an 0-2 showing in Hoover forced Tanner to hold two-a-days for the better part of a week leading into the regional.

USC then reeled off 11 wins in 12 games to win the school's first men's national title.

"It's a tough regional, but nobody said the road to Omaha was easy," Roth said. "It wasn't easy for us last year. We've just got to go on a five-game win streak."

Tickets

Regional booklets, $77 each, may be purchased on the school's athletic website (gamecocksonline.com) or by visiting or calling the box office (800-4SC-FANS). Super regional booklets, $45 each, are currently on sale to Gamecock Club members. If available, super regional single-game tickets, $18 each, will go on sale June 6.