The Road to Omaha for South Carolina could go through Clemson, but the Gamecocks will have to take care of business at Founders Park first before worrying about a potential matchup with the Tigers.
USC will host an NCAA Baseball Tournament regional this weekend that includes UNC Wilmington, Duke and Rhode Island.
South Carolina faces No. 4 seed Rhode Island (30-25) at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN3. No. 2 seed UNC Wilmington (39-17) will play No. 3 Duke (33-22) at 1 p.m. Friday, also on ESPN3.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team and our players for having an outstanding regular season,” Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “Any time you’re one of 16 hosts after going through a very, very difficult SEC schedule and winning 20 games in the league and putting yourself in a position to host you have to feel good about that.”
USC’s rival, Clemson, earned a Top 8 national seed, and the NCAA paired up the Gamecocks’ and Tigers’ regionals. Should both teams advance, they would meet at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson next weekend.
In order to get to next weekend South Carolina will have bounce back from an 0-2 showing at the SEC tournament in Hoover.
Holbrook may turn to freshman TJ Hopkins to try to create a spark after the Gamecocks managed only five runs in two games in the SEC tournament.
Hopkins did not start either game in Hoover, and the Gamecocks had several unproductive outs, including 17 strikeouts in losses to Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
“I’m wrestling with putting him up there in the top of our lineup and letting him go and letting him play… I think that he needs to be a factor for us,” Holbrook said of Hopkins. “He doesn’t have to hit the ball well to cause havoc. He can impact the game in a lot of different ways other than what he does from the batter’s box. We might need that energy in our lineup as we go forward.”
Holbrook added that he will coach with a sense of urgency in the postseason instead of hoping that guys that have been struggling will suddenly snap out of a slump.
“You want to perform well today. You’re not trying to keep people in good spirits and do any psychological tests to make sure that they feel good about themselves,” he said. “We’re trying to win the game. ... The sense of urgency is at an all-time high when it comes to NCAA tournament time.”
The Gamecocks were in the discussion for a national seed, but ultimately came up short.
National seeds are: 1. Florida; 2. Louisville; 3. Miami; 4. Texas A&M; 5. Texas Tech; 6. Mississippi State; 7. Clemson; 8. LSU.
This marks USC’s 31st NCAA tournament appearance, and the Gamecocks will be hosting a regional for the 17th time. This is the 11th time USC has hosted a regional since 1999, when the format was changed to regional-super regional.
South Carolina is 18-2 in the postseason at Founders Park, going 2-2 in 2014 after beginning a perfect 16-0.
The Gamecocks enter the NCAA tournament 42-15 on the year, including 30-4 at home.
“I wish like crazy (the SEC) would’ve gotten one more national seed, but we didn’t and that’s OK. I think all of the teams that are the eight national seeds are very deserving and had great seasons. They played great down the stretch,” Holbrook said. “Generally speaking we play very well at home, so that even gives me more excitement about the games coming up this weekend.”