Cougars miss by one win, or one ballpark

Lee

The College of Charleston baseball team is road-tested and good enough to win anywhere, including Tallahassee, Fla. So it was a fun time Monday inside The Kickin’ Chicken in Mount Pleasant as the Cougars cheered news that they are a No. 2 seed bound to face No. 3 Auburn at an NCAA baseball regional hosted by Florida State.

But it was not a great day in South Carolina for college baseball.

The College of Charleston lost a chance to host an NCAA regional for the first time, either by losing a pair of one-run games to UNC Wilmington in the CAA Tournament last weekend, or getting outfoxed by UC Santa Barbara’s plan to host in an off-campus spiffy minor league ballpark that looks a lot like Charleston’s Riley Park. Or both.

South Carolina missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. The Gamecocks have to get more than a little bit better in 2016.

Clemson officially was the last team allowed in the 64-team field. The once-feared Tigers over the last three years have been assigned to start the NCAA Tournament in South Carolina, Tennessee and California. What’s next at this rate? The Guam Regional?

The Citadel went to the NCAA Tournament six times between 1994 and 2004 but has been part of the party once since (2010). The Bulldogs must change direction before eroding a loyal fan base.

For the College of Charleston, hosting was a precious opportunity squandered — even as the Cougars remain alive to host a Super Regional.

The Cougars’ profile as a deserving host:

The College of Charleston is No. 17 on the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) list, UCSB is No. 20. While the Cougars were failing to win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at Patriots Point, UCSB was dropping two of three games to UC Riverside.

The Cougars went 4-1 against the RPI top 25, UCSB 3-2.

But the NCAA baseball committee picked the Gauchos’ bid to host at a Class A minor league ballpark in Lake Elsinore, Calif., 2½ hours away from Santa Barbara via L.A. traffic.

For the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, there is no regional in the Carolinas, Georgia or Virginia.

It was all set up for the College of Charleston, which will be second-guessed by some people for not submitting its bid to include Riley Park, home of the minor league Charleston RiverDogs, instead of much-maligned Patriots Point.

But athletic director Joe Hull said he ran both pitches by NCAA committee members before picking Patriots Point for true home-field advantage reasons.

“The NCAA told us that our bid was a quality qualifying bid, that they didn’t have any issues with the ballpark,

Hull said Monday. “The RiverDogs were very cooperative with us but we just felt our team deserved to be in its ballpark, if we could do that, and the NCAA led us to believe that was fine and that we were in good shape.”

NCAA Committee Chairman Dave Heeke, the athletic director at Central Michigan, trumpeted the overall UCSB cause Monday. He said the College of Charleston, Oregon State and Radford just missed the host site cut but declined to get into specifics.

A couple things:

The NCAA should allow schools to submit bids for more than one ballpark, just to satisfy fickle tastes on the 10-member committee.

Whether Patriots Point was the problem or not, this should be the ultimate wake-up call for the College of Charleston to fix the place up with better clubhouses, weight rooms and classrooms.

Hull said work on adding a bathroom to the visiting dugout will begin in the next few weeks. The rest of the renovation concept requires funds not yet available, Hull said.

Meanwhile, back inside the bracket, it’s OK to pull for the College of Charleston to host a Super Regional. All that has to happen for the Cougars to get into the bidding process is success in Tallahassee combined with No. 1 seed Florida stumbling in Gainesville.

Remember, the College of Charleston stole Florida’s regional as a No. 4 seed last year.

Just another reason why the Cougars are good enough to win anywhere, from Mount Pleasant to Guam.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff