That is one reason the committee grouped the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks with state rivals Clemson and Coastal Carolina in the four-team regional at Carolina Stadium.
“They only want one team coming out of here,” Tanner said.
The games get underway today with No. 2 seed Clemson (33-26) facing No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina (41-17), the Big South Conference champions.
Top-seeded South Carolina (40-17) takes on Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Manhattan (33-25) after the opening contest in the double-elimination event.
Tanner has treated this like any other regional, although clearly it’s not. The Gamecocks have a century-long rivalry with Clemson and Coastal Carolina lost a super regional to South Carolina in 2010.
The three Palmetto State rivals have a history of NCAA baseball success. South Carolina has advanced to nine super regional rounds since the format was introduced in 1999. Clemson’s has done the same. Mid-major Coastal Carolina reached the best-of-three super regional round in 2008 and 2010.
“I think you go back to the history and tradition they’ve established at Coastal Carolina, they could go somewhere and win,” Tanner said. “Clemson certainly has a proven track record. We’ve been able to win. Well, they’re only getting one now because they’ve suffocated us a little bit here.”
The Gamecocks enter as the tournament’s eighth seed overall and with an NCAA record 16 game tournament win streak dating back to the 2010 College World Series.
But it won’t be an easy road for the national champs. The Gamecocks will face Manhattan ace Taylor Sewitt (11-1), who pitches 22 scoreless innings and got the victory in all three games of the Jaspers’ MAAC tournament title run.
On Wednesday, South Carolina lost freshman catching standout Grayson Greiner to a meniscus tear in his left knee. Greiner, picked for the USA Baseball collegiate national team this summer, twisted his knee during batting practice Wednesday, Tanner said.
Greiner had surgery Thursday and won’t play this weekend. Tanner said Greiner could return should South Carolina reach the super regional round, but likely only as a designated hitter.
Dante Rosenberg will take over for Greiner.
Should the Gamecocks get past Manhattan, that’s when the state rivalries kick in — especially with Clemson.
The universities have shared a feud — sometimes bitter — since the land-grant college was founded in 1889 to objections from some South Carolina legislators who favored their hometown university.
And it doesn’t take much to fire up Clemson athletes when they’re matched against South Carolina. The baseball Tigers may have a little bit more to prove since they’ve lost 16 of the past 23 games in a series. That included losing two straight to the Gamecocks at the College World Series in 2010 when Clemson would’ve advanced to the championship series with a victory.
Clemson catcher Phil Pohl said the team’s not focused on what’s gone before, only the opportunity they have ahead of them this weekend.
“It’s pretty easy to get distracted,” Pohl said. “But we’ve got to take care of our business tomorrow because if we don’t do that, nothing happens.”
The Chanticleers have their own bitter memories of South Carolina. Coastal was the national seed and South Carolina the second-tier team that hadn’t been to a College World Series in six years when the teams matched up in Myrtle Beach for their 2010 super regional.
Chants coach Gary Gilmore had his club in position to win both games. But Gamecocks reliever Matt Price shut the door late in a game one loss, then freshman first baseman Christian Walker unloaded a go-ahead, three-run homer late in South Carolina’s 10-9 clincher.
They haven’t faced each other since.
Gilmore is glad to be back in the postseason. He just wishes all three state schools had the chance to reach the round of 16.
“You’re basically, in my mind, making this into a state championship,” he says “and eliminating multiple opportunities to get people to the College World Series. That’s the only disappointment I have.”
Manhattan sure seems like the odd-team out. The school of about 3,500 from the Bronx doesn’t match up in funds or prestige with others in the regional. Coach Jim Duffy said his players understand the perception and hope they can change a few minds before the weekends out.
“We’re a small school,” he said. “But we play pretty good baseball.”