The water-cooler wisdom was that USC needed to make a fairly deep run in Hoover, Alabama in order to have a shot at hosting a Regional series. Well, even by our own mediocre standards at Regions Park (18-28 in fifteen trips, and our eleventh 1st or 2nd round elimination), our short stay at the SEC Baseball Tournament did not cost us a Regional - but the Committee gave us perhaps the toughest road to Omaha in the 2013 NCAA Baseball Tournament Field.
Not only do we host the Clemson Tigers [39-20 (18-12)] for a second year in a row, but if we can win our Regional then we will have to travel to Chapel Hill to face the number 1 seeded North Carolina Tarheels [50-8 (21-7)] in a potential Super Regional. Some draw, huh?
With nine SEC squads making the Tourney, our own Cocknfire is right when he writes at Team Speed Kills that "[w]hen it comes to baseball, the SEC is still king." Vandy and LSU are national seeds (## 2 and 4, respectively). Vandy's main Nashville Regional challenger will be perennial ACC power Georgia Tech, while LSU will likely face in-state Louisiana-Lafayette for the Baton Rouge Regional title. Mississippi State is the other SEC team that will host a Regional - drawing South Alabama as the 2 seed in the Starkville Regional.
The ACC got eight teams into the Tourney [UNC (#1), UVA (#6), FSU (#7), NCSU, CU, GT, VT and Miami] so that league is still nipping our heels (though still looking to end a 5 decade-old CWS title drought, too). With three national seeds to our two - and five Regionals to our four - some ACC partisans might crow that they are, in fact, king of the hill. Well, we'll know soon enough who will have bragging rights for 2013.
The Committee really seems to want SEC-ACC matchups. Along with potential USC-CU and Vandy-Ga Tech Regional championship draws, the Ole Miss Rebels have to travel to Raleigh to face the Pack, while Bama goes down to Tallahassee to see the "Noles.
Things could be worse, however - the Razorbacks have to go to Manhattan, Kansas; the Gators are sent to Bloomington, Indiana; and the Aggies have to fly out all the way to Corvallis, Oregon - each as Regional number two against hosts K-State, Indiana and Oregon State, respectively. As far as the rest of the SEC teams, only Auburn and Kentucky were eligible; Aubie was "the most bubbly of bubble teams" (quoting the aforementioned Cocknfire), and UK didn't really have a hope.
At Baseball America, Aaron Fitt explains some of the conventional wisdom as to why Florida and Texas A&M both beat out Auburn for the Tournament field, and why USC edged out Bama and Arkie to host a Regional.
I'm sure the 'Heels - fresh off their ACC Championship run (that included an 18 inning, 2-1 marathon against their arch rival NC State Wolfpack) are not exactly thrilled to have to face the Cocks to get to T.D. Ameritrade Park, either - though they're not admitting it, of course.
We haven't met the Tarheels in the NCAA's since the 2007 Chapel Hill Super-Regional which UNC took 2-1. We were last slated to face UNC in '09, but bowed to East Carolina in the Greenville, NC Regional and were eliminated before we could get back to Tobacco Road. We also had great battles with North Cackalacky in both the '03 NCAA Columbia Super Regional and the '04 NCAA Columbia Regional - where we swept them twice.
In any event, there is no use in looking ahead to a Super-Regional when we have such a tough draw out of the gate. Alhtough we've had Clemmy's number these last few years, make no mistake that CU Coach Jack Leggett's squad will be a hard nut to crack - if anyone knows the Yardcocks, it's Pitchfork Ben's Striped Beasts. Moreover, Clemson will have a big chip on their shoulders after their poor showing at the ACC Tournament in Durham - including a 14 inning, 12-7 heartbreak loss to the Heels when the Tigs took a 7-2 lead into the ninth frame.
Hopefully, first year skipper Chad Holbrook's Gamecocks [39-18 (17-12)] will be playing (and coaching) with a chip on their shoulders, too. They better if they want to see Omaha again.
All things being equal, I'd have rather faced another ACC foe - Miami or Virginia Tech for example - if nothing else, just for variety. I can't blame the Committee, however. In-state rivals = fan turnout = more money for the NCAA. Plus, they are allowing the Tigers a chance to avenge themselves after being dismissed by Carolina in both '10 and '12.
On our side, however, Holbrook gets to defend our undefeated NCAA Tourney record at Carolina Stadium and also kick the Tigs to the curb once again - with all the recruiting advantages that would entail. This is a big opportunity for him to step out from former coach (and new USC A.D.) Ray Tanner's shadow
It's no guarantee that we'll face Leggett & Company, though. Clemmy draws the white-hot Big South Tourney Champion Liberty University Flames [34-27 (13-11)] led by former Gamecock assistant Jim Toman, while we have to face the Atlantic 10 Regular Season Champion St. Louis University Billikens [41-19 (17-7)] - arguably the toughest Regional 4-seed in the whole tournament with 40+ victories and a 13 game win streak in the regular season. An opening day upset in the Columbia Regional - or two - is not all that farfetched.
Over at Gamecock Central, David Cloninger breaks down the field with Columbia Regional Capsules.
We will definitely have to take care of business in the future Ray Tanner Stadium this weekend. If we do get back to the CWS by hook or by crook, though, we definitely will have earned it the old-fashioned way.