COLUMBIA — Baseball America, in one of those way-too-early NCAA Tournament field projections, has the College of Charleston coming to South Carolina as a No. 3 seed. The Cougars probably hope for a more exotic destination.
You know, somewhere like Los Angeles or Stillwater.
But it’s not too early to say a May rematch of this weekend’s series at Carolina Stadium projects as fun. There was so much to like about a well-played tussle the No. 13 Gamecocks won by winning a Saturday doubleheader, 7-1 and 8-3.
“I think we were mad about our performance (Friday),” South Carolina sophomore shortstop/outfielder Jordan Gore said, “so we came out and hit the ball. We played as a team.”
Emotion ran high on both sides.
“We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, too,” said College of Charleston first baseman Nick Pappas, who gave the Cougars a Game 3 lead with a two-run homer. “This time they won. Next time, if we had another series, it might be a little different.”
Tradition that matters most, after all, is what happened last. The College of Charleston is the program coming off an NCAA Tournament Super Regional appearance, not South Carolina.
But the Gamecocks got clutch at-bats from seniors Kyle Martin (four hits Saturday) and Connor Bright (Game 3 home run), the last South Carolina players to see action in one of those three straight College World Series finals appearances.
Gamecocks head coach Chad Holbrook also played seven freshmen in the series, including potential star slugger Alex Destino, who homered in Game 3.
But it was close enough that Holbrook went to closer Taylor Widener for a 2.2-inning save while leading 5-3 in the clincher.
“It’s really good to bounce back from adversity,” Martin said. “College of Charleston, they’re a great team. They beat us on Opening Day. To bounce back and take two from them, that was a big day for us.”
The Cougars went to the third game wall in one of the toughest environments in the sport and didn’t use preseason All-American Bailey Ober. The 6-6 sophomore pitcher is out at least another week with shoulder tightness.
Just getting Ober back will make the pitching staff better all down the line. Lee is more concerned about the College of Charleston’s inability to hit 91-95 pitches thrown by Wil Crowe, South Carolina’s Game 2 starter and top pro prospect, and Widener.
“We have to do a better of job of being able to handle a good fastball if we’re going to play deep into the season,” Lee said.
Still, the series was sprinkled with positives for both teams.
The Gamecocks played errorless baseball and the Cougars had only two.
The College of Charleston got 14 hits in its 6-3 win on Friday.
Both teams wedged new pitchers into tough spots.
And it was a happier Valentine’s Day when former Gamecock shortstop Peter Mooney’s in-stadium proposal to his girlfriend was captured on the video board.
“Yes,” she said.
The Gamecocks and Cougars are similarly built, with very good starters on the mound, apparently solid leadership and flexible lineups requiring some settling in.
“Maybe it will look good on the resume,” Holbrook said after winning the series. “We have the utmost respect for Monte’s team and the job that they do. If we’re lucky enough to win enough games, there’s probably a pretty good chance we’ll see them again.”
May these teams meet at the Columbia Regional in May.
Better yet, at a Super Regional in June. If the Gamecocks can keep up with recent College of Charleston tradition.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff