MYRTLE BEACH -- As much as getting back to Omaha would mean to South Carolina's tradition-rich baseball program, arriving here on the Grand Strand, you start to get a real sense of what an initial appearance in the College World Series would mean to Coastal Carolina.
"South Carolina, they've done it all," Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore said Friday, on the eve of the school's first home super regional. "The opportunity in front of Coastal Carolina, it doesn't just change our team. It changes our school, our community.
"Two more wins, and it'll be the most insane thing this school has ever gone through."
Game one is at noon today at BB&T Coastal Field.
The Chanticleers (55-8) have the most wins, by five, of any team left in the final 16. They went 25-0 in Big South play. Seven players were drafted earlier in the week.
Yet, Gilmore says, his program is still bereft of outside acceptance. He's learned to deal with it, but it's still the case and will always be the case -- as long as Coastal Carolina stays on this side of Omaha.
"The only people who are truly, honestly ready to accept Coastal are ourselves," said Gilmore, who arrived at the school in 1996 after a run at USC Aiken. "I really believe that. No matter what we do, there's always an asterisk beside it. 'Oh, they don't deserve this. If they played in the SEC or ACC, they'd be this, this and this.'
"Whatever it is it is. I may spend a lifetime never getting to that point, where there's legitimacy."
But, in a way, does that sense of being spurned make Coastal good? Are the Chanticleers -- the players, the coaches, even the fans -- driven to success because of that feeling?
"I know it fuels me and my staff. That's the way it's always been," Gilmore said. "We'll kind of think we're always the program, when we get to competing against BCS schools ... we're kind of looked at as the red-headed stepchild."
It's fairly obvious what would quickly alter perceptions.
"We're here to get to Omaha," Gilmore said. "I hope we can legitimize ourselves that way. That would be great."
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner isn't buying the overlooked idea. He says that might have once been the case with Coastal, but it isn't anymore.
After all, Coastal is the No. 4 overall seed in this tournament.
"Everybody knows how good they are nationally," Tanner said. "They've been knocking on the door for the College World Series, and here they are again. We hope that can happen for them. Just not this year."
But let's not completely discount the Gamecocks' drive to return to Omaha for the first time since 2004 and the ninth time in the program's history.
South Carolina (46-15) lost the deciding game of a super regional in 2006, at Georgia, and in 2007, at North Carolina.
After 46 wins to get to this point, the players recognize they're close, really close, for the first time in a few seasons.
"You can taste it, you really can," said USC junior outfielder Whit Merrifield. "We're two huge wins away. Two wins seem like such a small task, but that's such a big, big thing to accomplish. We know we're so close. We're hungry for it. I don't think any team in the country wants it as bad as we do."
Can even the Gamecocks recognize that Coastal is gunning for them -- especially with Coastal on the verge of that first CWS appearance?
"We're trying to take care of our business and not really worry about what they're doing over there," Merrifield said. "We just know we need to go in and win two games -- two blowouts, two close games, whatever it has to be. We need to win.
"Whatever they do, that's over there at the beach. We're in Columbia. You try not to get into it too much or get involved. You just show up to play."
There's a certain intensity, bordering on contentiousness, leading into this series. You've seen that play out this week, especially in how tickets were divvied out -- or not allocated, that is, to South Carolina fans.
But there's a distinction to be made -- between the field and the stands. Once the ball's in play, all the extenuating circumstances are quieted to a whisper.
It's about nine innings each of the next two or three days, with the College World Series as a treasure for the victor.
"This is a ballgame between two good teams," Gilmore said. "People trying to make more out of this -- the momma and poppa school, and the little, baby school -- that's for all the people that's paid money to watch this game.
"For us, it's Coastal against South Carolina, winner-take-all to go to Omaha."