Hoover, Alabama. Population: around 84,126. About a 15-minute drive from downtown Birmingham down I-65. A retired professional basketball player turned baseball player named Michael Jordan played at the Hoover Met - 121 games to be exact - with the minor-league Birmingham Barons in 1994 (Baseball didn't work out for him, by the way; he returned to basketball in 1995 while MLB was working out its labor issues).
Hoover, Alabama. Two words that send a shiver down the spines of every South Carolina Gamecocks baseball fan.
Like you, I have no idea what it is about this place that trips the Gamecocks up every year. Even in the best years, the back-to-back College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011, this team couldn't get out of its own way in the SEC Tournament. They managed a single run in two games in 2010 en route to a first-round exit as the second seed; in 2011, as the top seed overall, they at least won a game, but lost their next two to fall in the second round.
For history's sake, and for those that might be new to following the team, let's take you back in time to an abridged history of the South Carolina Gamecocks' performance in the SEC Baseball Tournament.
2015: The Gamecocks enter as the 10th seed, meaning they would be forced to play in the first round. Result: a 5-1 loss to Missouri.
2014: The Gamecocks are seeded fourth and earn a bye into the second round. Result: a 12-0, seven-inning loss to Mississippi State that was stopped due to the tournament's mercy rule. Good news! It was double-elimination. Bad news: Vandy beat them in the loser's bracket game, 4-3.
2013: The Gamecocks, again, are seeded fourth and, again, earn a bye into the second round. Result: A 5-3 loss to, guess who? Our old friends with the cowbells. Fortunately, it was double elimination, but Vandy's 4-3 win crushed the Gamecocks' hopes again.
2012: The Gamecocks actually advance to the third round! Despite losing to Vandy as a two seed, 3-2, they topped 10th-seeded Auburn, 5-3. Unfortunately, Florida was waiting, and came away with a 7-2 win in the quarterfinals.
Combine their marks from 2008 (the year after they advanced to the SEC semifinals) through 2015, and our Garnet and Black is just 4-15 in that span and haven't even made it out of the second round. Here's the silver lining in this: they're safely in a regional regardless of the result and may even host a regional at that. (Better than no regional at all.) They were even projected as a national seed on May 18, and should still be when the next projections come out. Clinching a national seed, especially with Florida, Texas A&M and Mississippi State ahead of them? That possibility lessens if they can't beat Ole Miss or Georgia on Wednesday.
Obviously, the Gamecocks would love the path of least resistance to a possible trip to Omaha and would prefer hosting all the way through Super Regionals. But that may mean forgetting their past woes in Hoover and putting together a win or two.
Then again, the 2010 team (a much better team, mind you) lost in the first round, so it may work out in the end anyway.