Because USC and Clemson first must win their NCAA regionals this weekend to set up a matchup in Super Regionals, nobody on the Gamecocks has been willing to look ahead to the potential showdown of archrivals.
First baseman Christian Walker said he didn’t want any of the teams in the regional to think that USC was focused on Clemson.
“It’s in the back of our heads, but at the same time, you don’t want to look past anybody,” Walker said. “That’s when you end up taking someone too lightly and not playing the way you want to play.”
“I’m sure you guys would love it if we played them in a Super Regional,” junior ace Michael Roth said to the media.
The teams played a heated three-game series in early March, with USC taking two-of-three games. Those games featured Clemson accusations of bat tampering and a war of words that culminated in USC coach Ray Tanner railing against the “shenanigans.”
That series followed two meetings in the College World Series last summer won by the Gamecocks, who eliminated the Tigers in successive games on the way to a national championship.
Keeping up with his alma mater
Tanner can’t get away from his alma mater. For the third time in five seasons, the Gamecocks have ended up in the same NCAA regional as N.C. State.
Not that Tanner minds. He was speaking on the phone about that very topic with N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, Tanner’s successor with the Wolfpack, both the day before and the day of the announcement of this season’s 64-team field.
“I stay in touch with coach Avent up there, and he keeps up with our program,” Tanner said.
Tanner, 53, played at N.C. State for four seasons before going to graduate school and serving as an assistant coach to Sam Esposito. Tanner took over the program before the 1988 season, the one season Avent served as his assistant. He guided the Wolfpack to seven NCAA appearances in nine seasons before getting the USC job after the 1996 season.
He noted Monday that he grew up on the Raleigh campus over that span of 20 years. “It didn’t take me that long to get a degree,” he said, smiling.
“I have fond memories and I have great respect for N.C. State and Coach Avent and his program, and I follow them,” Tanner said. “But I’m wearing a different uniform now so it’s not difficult to separate.”
Fly like an Eagle
Tanner wasn’t overly thrilled with drawing Southern Conference tournament champion Georgia Southern for a first-round game. The Eagles (36-24) have won nine of their last 12 games.
The teams played a pair of close games in recent years, with USC winning 2-1 in 10 innings in 2009 and 8-5 in 13 innings in 2010.
“They got hot at the right time,” Tanner said. “We’ve got great respect for how good they are and how they play.”
“We’re fine. We’re not worried about the past. We’ll be OK this weekend and ready to roll.” -- USC pitcher Michael Roth on getting over the two straight losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament