COLUMBIA -- It's been a pleasant ride so far, but the six games in the following nine days will determine what kind of regular season this was for South Carolina's baseball team.
Will it prove one worthy of a piece of the Southeastern Conference crown? Will it end with the Gamecocks working their way into a national seed, netting them home-field advantage in the NCAA's regional and super regional rounds?
Those things are out there for No. 8 USC (38-11, 17-7 in SEC). And they're for the Gamecocks to decide, beginning tonight at No. 12 Arkansas and late next week against No. 4 Florida.
Settle things on the field? Beats scoreboard-watching.
That was USC coach Ray Tanner's message to his team during a meeting Tuesday.
"I told them, 'I can't imagine any players or coaches in this league that wouldn't want to be where we are going into the last two weekends,' " Tanner said. "It's going to be very difficult. But we're in the mix. You get a chance to make a run at it, if you play well enough.
"If we don't, well, it's our fault. I like it that way."
Senior Blake Cooper (9-0, 3.05 ERA) will get the ball tonight for USC. The right-hander wasn't his best last week at Kentucky, but won anyhow. He'll face Arkansas sophomore Drew Smyly (8-0, 2.26), who's likewise been lights out.
Meanwhile, USC senior right-hander Sam Dyson (eight innings, two runs) was as good as he's been all year against the Wildcats, but Dyson (4-4, 4.30 ERA) was on the wrong end of a 2-1 loss.
Sunday's starter is still up in the air, but Tanner seemed to indicate Wednesday night that he's leaning toward a young left-hander -- either freshman Tyler Webb, who saw some weekend starts early in the season, or sophomore Nolan Belcher, who faced and beat Arkansas at home last year.
Veteran right-hander Jay Brown has been ineffective in recent weeks, but he could figure into a long-relief plan, if any of the games require it.
For Tanner, it'll be a Saturday evening decision, likely between Webb and Belcher -- who were both pretty sharp this week in scoreless midweek starts. (Belcher was better, no-hitting Wofford for five innings.)
The Gamecocks didn't exactly help themselves last weekend by dropping two of three at Kentucky. In fact, it caused some national pundits to drop USC from the national top eight -- the significance there being that the eight seeded teams in the NCAA tourney have a chance to host the super regional, should they get through their home regional.
South Carolina hasn't hosted a super regional since 2004 - its most recent trip to the College World Series.
Of course, there are some hurdles in the way.
"We know how good they are," Tanner said of the Razorbacks (38-11) and Gators (34-12). "I've had a lot of coaches tell me that Arkansas is very, very good. And then they play Florida and say they're very, very good. Nobody's told me, 'You're very, very good.' But let's just go play, see what happens."