HOOVER, Ala. — The short SEC tournament run was over, so the subject quickly pivoted to the NCAA tournament. When the question was asked, Ray Tanner had a curious answer.
“I just hope to hear our name called on Monday, and that’s it,” said the South Carolina coach, after his team was eliminated with a 7-5 loss to Vanderbilt on Friday.
The fact Tanner said Monday — when the 64-team NCAA field is announced — and not Sunday — when the 16 regional sites are revealed — summed up where USC stands at this point.
As recently as a month ago, being a top seed and hosting a regional seemed a foregone conclusion. That changed after a late-season swoon which continued with a 1-2 performance in Hoover.
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Tanner kept using “if” when it came to even getting an NCAA bid, which seemed overly cautious given the Gamecocks’ solid ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index. In fact, the Gamecocks (38-21) were quite close to going further in this tournament.
Then Regions Park once again intervened.
The cavernous host field contained what would have been a game-tying homer by Reese Havens in the ninth inning. James Darnell also missed a homer in the fourth inning.
“I knew I missed it,” Havens said. “I hit it all right, but it’s a pretty big park, so I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Phil Disher had better luck. The South Carolina catcher hit two homers, including a three-run shot in the eighth inning to make Vanderbilt nervous. Disher also homered in Wednesday’s first-round loss to LSU.
But Vanderbilt (39-20) earlier received a decisive two-run homer from Pedro Alvarez, a candidate to be the top pick in next month’s major league draft. The Commodores also got a strong performance from starting pitcher Nick Christiani, who struggled in his regular-season start against USC.
So the Gamecocks bussed home Friday night awaiting word on their postseason destination. Although USC put in a bid to host a regional, Tanner said Friday it was “remote.”
The Gamecocks could drop down to a No. 3 seed. They have been seeded either first or second every year since 1998.
Despite the early exit, Tanner was hoping the tournament breathed new life into his team.
He thinks he settled on two top starters: Sam Dyson, who shut out LSU for 6ð innings on Wednesday, and Nick Godwin, who earned USC’s only win in Hoover.
He thinks Brandon Todd, who pitched two scoreless innings Friday, has emerged as a potential bullpen ace.
Meantime, the starting lineup has been bolstered by DeAngelo Mack and Parker Bangs, who each had a good SEC tournament. They were both able to play thanks to Disher playing all three games at catcher, another plus for the offense.
“So I think maybe we have a chance to put together a run if we get an opportunity. I think we’re on the verge of maybe having some good things happen. But we’ve gotta get the call, and get a chance to play.”
Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.