By NEIL WHITEnwhite@thestate.com
As expected, the top-ranked South Carolina baseball team will open the NCAA tournament at home.
The Gamecocks landed one of the 16 host bids announced Sunday afternoon. For the second consecutive season, Carolina Stadium, the $36.5-million ballpark in the Vista that opened in 2009, will serve as a site for a four-team regional that will begin Friday.
The remainder of the 64-team field – which will include the top eight national seeds and the pairings in each regional -- will be announced on ESPN’s selection show Monday at 12:30 p.m.
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This bid marks the USC’s 27th appearance in the NCAA tournament over a 38-season span. In that time, the Gamecocks have previously hosted 12 opening-round regionals and won 11 of them, with the only loss coming in 1976.
During USC coach Ray Tanner’s 15-season tenure, his teams have won home regionals in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2010. Of the nine times South Carolina has reached the College World Series in its history, eight trips began with a home regional.
The Gamecocks (45-14), the SEC regular-season co-champions who currently reside as the consensus No. 1 team in all five college baseball polls, are considered a lock for a national seed. That would also guarantee a host role for a potential Super Regional as they defend the national championship captured at the 2010 College World Series.
USC, which went 1-2 at the SEC tournament, has returned from Hoover, Ala., and begun working out in preparation for its 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament under Tanner.
Two SEC teams will be hosting in addition to USC – Florida and Vanderbilt. Five ACC teams – Clemson, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech – also earned host sites. The other teams hosting are Texas, Texas A&M, Rice, TCU, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton.