This weekend, South Carolina softball is hosting an NCAA tournament regional for the first time in more than a decade at Beckham Field.
Baseball coach Mark Kingston would obviously like to do the same at Founders Park, and while he thinks the Gamecocks aren't currently in position to be one of the 16 teams that get that advantage in the tourney, he does believe a surge to finish the season could push USC over the edge.
That would have to start Thursday as Kingston's squad opens its final SEC series of the season at Texas A&M. From there, the Gamecocks would likely have to win a whole host of games at the SEC tournament next week.
"Realistically, have we done enough yet to say we should be one of the top 16 teams considered? No, we have not. We've had some slip-ups over the course of the year," Kingston said. "But if we finish strong, if we go on a great run in the tournament, who's to say that we can't get to that position? We're always going to try to shoot for the stars and make sure we're as in a good position as we can be for that selection committee."
At the very least, Kingston is holding out hope that South Carolina could host a super regional if it made its way past the first round. The Gamecocks could also get a few extra games in Columbia if the school hosting their regional doesn't have the NCAA-required facilities and seating.
That scenario was raised by some observers after D1Baseball.com recently projected Carolina as the No. 2 seed in a regional topped by Duke, which would likely have to add extra bleachers to its 2,000-seat stadium to host. Unsurprisingly, Kingston said he would be on pleased if that arrangement had to be made.
"I'll never turn down the chance to play at Founders Park, that's for sure. They can put us as the four seed if we're hosting and get to play here in this stadium. I'd sign that deal," he said.
The fact that Kingston can talk about hosting a regional at all speaks to both how unsettled the postseason picture is heading into the final weekend of the regular season and how far the Gamecocks have come in the past month, to the point that an NCAA berth has gone from questionable to very near secure.
Not that Kingston or any of his players are willing to say they're definitely in just yet.
"I don't think comfort is ever a word you use as a coach in the SEC," Kingston said. "It's just where are you, and what can you do to improve your standing? Obviously at this point in the season, being in the top 5 of this league is a pretty good standing for where our club is and where our program is. That being said, we're just going into this weekend trying to win the next game, as we always do. We're on pretty solid footing right now, but we don't take anything for granted."
"It's pretty exciting," to be in postseason projections, senior catcher Hunter Taylor said. "But one thing we've talked about all season is we're not done yet."
The same goes for USC's opponent this weekend — the Aggies have one of the top RPIs in the country at 14, but their 12-15 record in the SEC has kept them from cracking the top-25 rankings. If A&M is able to dominate the Gamecocks and perform well at the conference championship, hosting a regional of its own is certainly possible.
"The first thing that stands out about Texas A&M as always is they can really pitch. They got a 3.33 ERA as a team. That's impressive, to have an ERA that low at this point in the season. ... They're also hitting over .280 as a team, fielding over .970 as a team, it's a very balanced lineup," Kingston said. "I think their record in the SEC is just indicative of how great the league is this year, because they have 35 wins overall. So to me, their RPI is within striking distance of hosting, so my guess is they're going to give everything they have this weekend to play their best baseball to finish strong."
Carolina enters this final series on a roll, having won four consecutive SEC series to vault to 38th in RPI and crack the national to-25 rankings for the first time in more than a year. That success has given the entire team a great deal of confidence, junior pitcher Adam Hill said.
"We're going to look to carry this momentum we've had from playing well here recently and carrying it into Texas. We're looking for three wins and we're expecting nothing less," Hill said.
That confidence has also reached the fans, for whom the possibility of a regional harkens back to the beginning of the decade, when the Gamecocks hosted every year from 2010 to 2014.
But Kingston stressed that at this point, any and all NCAA discussions are secondary to the task at hand.
"At the end of the day, that stuff is out of our hands, so to talk too much about it would be counterproductive, so we're just going to try to figure out how to play great baseball," he said.