For the first time in three seasons, the South Carolina baseball team can use that timeless phrase as the NCAA tournament starts:
There’s no place like home.
The Gamecocks landed one of the 16 host bids announced Sunday afternoon, which means Carolina Stadium will serve as a site for a four-team regional that will begin Friday. The remainder of the field will be announced on ESPN’s selection show at 12:30 p.m. today.
“I’m extremely happy for our players, our coaches and our fans that we’ve been selected as a host site,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “Those host sites are not easy to come by. In order to host out of the Southeastern Conference, you've got to be one of the top three or four teams. That’s not an easy task.”
Over a 35-year span, no place has proven sweeter than home for USC’s program. The Gamecocks have hosted 11 regionals dating to 1975 and won 10 of them, with the only loss coming in 1976.
During Tanner’s 14-season tenure, his teams have won home regionals in 2000, ’01, ’02, ’04 and ’07. And of the eight times the Gamecocks have reached the College World Series, seven trips began with home regionals.
On the flip side, USC went on the road to Raleigh in 2008 and Greenville, N.C., in 2009 for regional play, which resulted in runner-up finishes, respectively, to N.C. State and East Carolina.
“I like our chances here,” said Tanner, whose program has made 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. “We don’t know who the field is, but we’ve played very well at home. We’ve won a lot of games here, and we’re going to have great fans behind us. So there are a lot of things to be excited about. We’re pretty good with (pitchers Blake) Cooper and (Sam) Dyson up front. That gives us a good chance against anybody.”
Because Dyson did not pitch in the SEC tournament, Tanner said the junior right-hander likely will get the opening-day start in the regional.
This regional will be the first at Carolina Stadium, the $36.5 million ballpark in the Vista that opened last year.
The No. 10 Gamecocks (43-15) remain in the hunt for a top-eight national seed, which guarantees hosting a Super Regional if they advance through regional play. Despite a two-and-out performance in the SEC tournament, USC remains hopeful based on the strength of a 21-9 SEC record, good for second place. The team will learn if it’s a national seed on the selection show.
“It seems like maybe there are four or five teams battling for three spots,” Tanner said. “I think with our resume in the SEC, the No. 1 conference in the country RPI-wise, we were the second team, only a game behind Florida. We won 21 games against top-50 opponents. Whether that’s good enough, we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Coastal Carolina also was selected as one of the 16 host sites. The Gamecocks are one of four SEC teams that will be hosting, along with Florida, Auburn and Arkansas. Three ACC teams — Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami — earned host sites.