Fans of South Carolina and Clemson’s baseball teams, and media members around the state, are already looking ahead to a potential matchup between the Gamecocks and Tigers next weekend.
But, USC has a tough regional to navigate through first.
USC will open NCAA Tournament play on Friday against Rhode Island and its left-handed ace Tyler Wilson, who is 12-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
Waiting next is a showdown with either a UNC Wilmington team that averages nearly nine runs per game, or a Duke squad that earned big series wins in the ACC.
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USC coach Chad Holbrook is well aware that if the Gamecocks look ahead to a matchup with the Tigers, they’ll struggle to make it out of the weekend.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get through this weekend, we’ll talk about whoever we’re matched up with next week,” Holbrook said. “If for one moment we think about any opponent or any game on down the line, we’ll get our tails kicked. There will be a time to talk about that if it indeed happens.”
Rhode Island enters Friday night’s game winners of six in a row. Wilson has allowed one earned run or less in eight straight starts.
The last time he allowed more than one earned run came March 25 in a 5-2 win at George Mason. Wilson allowed four earned runs or more in three of his first four starts, but has given up five runs in 75 innings since.
In his past four starts, Wilson’s 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He has 36 strikeouts during that time, and on the season has recorded 111 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings.
“I don’t care what league you play in. If you’re playing against kids that can’t see those are tremendous numbers, we’re going to have our hands full,” Gamecocks slugger Alex Destino said. “They’re going to come in here and enjoy the atmosphere, but they’re coming down here to win.”
The No. 2 seed in the Columbia Regional, UNC Wilmington, has seven players batting better than .300, led by Steven Linkous at .386.
UNCW hits for more than just average. Four players have posted double-digit home run totals entering the NCAA Tournament.
Nick Feight’s tied for second in the nation with 21 home runs, and is tied for 10th in doubles with 23, while leading the country with 90 RBIs, 13 more than anyone else.
Duke had an up-and-down year, but is a dangerous No. 3 seed. The Blue Devils finished 14-15 in the ACC and have an RPI of No. 26 entering the NCAA Tournament.
Duke earned series wins over No. 7 overall seed Clemson, regional host Florida State and two-seed Georgia Tech.
As if South Carolina needed any more motivation to not look ahead, USC and Clemson were set to meet in the Super Regionals in 2011, but UConn won the Tigers’ regional instead.
There’s no doubt South Carolina would love another shot at Clemson after losing two of three to the Tigers earlier this year, but the Gamecocks have plenty of work to do first before worrying about a shot at revenge.