Twelve -- that's how many years in a row Ray Tanner's South Carolina baseball team has made the NCAA Baseball Tournament -- the longest running streak of all the SEC teams. While some programs may throw parties for making the tournament, it was business as usual at Carolina Stadium Sunday afternoon when Columbia, S.C. was announced as one of 16 regional host institutions for the 2011 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship.
That will probably be the case Monday, too, when South Carolina is announced as a top-eight national seed in this year's 64-team field. Tanner said Friday night that his team may even be on the practice field Monday afternoon when the NCAA Selection Show airs at 12:30 on ESPN.
For Ray Tanner's baseball program, NCAA berths aren't really worth celebrating -- they're expected -- but that doesn't mean it's getting old either for Tanner, who is completing his 15th season in Columbia.
"Well it is exciting," Tanner said. "These things you do not take for granted, especially playing in the Southeastern Conference. You know that there's going to be some bumps along the way and a very difficult path to be able to host. We're excited to be among that group. That's one of the things that all of the schools have on their goal list is to maybe host if you win enough games and your RPI's good enough. So, we're excited about being a host site."
Those bumps have been particularly rough this season. While it may not be obvious at first glance -- the Gamecocks were still able to finish 45-14 on the season while winning a share of an SEC Championship despite playing in the nation's toughest division -- it has been Tanner's most trying season as a coach in some time.
All-American center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been out since April and may not be able to return. Starting right fielder Adam Matthews is just now getting to the point he can serve a pinch-hitter's role after dealing with a pulled hamstring for much of the SEC schedule.
Not to mention current center fielder Evan Marzilli, third baseman Adrian Morales, reserve-freshman turned starter DeSean Anderson and do-it-all two-way player Steven Neff have all missed time due to various injures. Catcher Brady Thomas is also currently playing through an injured foot.
But don't expect any excuses. If anything, Tanner is all the more proud of what his team has accomplished this season.
"If you stay in it long enough you're going to have years like this," Tanner said. "That being said, I can't say enough good things about our team. They guys have battled, they've scrapped, they've clawed. They've tried to stay in a position to win. A lot of different guys have stepped up and done things at different times. We didn't do very well in Hoover, but besides that we've had a pretty solid year playing with guys that maybe didn't expect to be playing at this time of year. So, it's satisfying in a lot of ways."
But don't expect him to stay satisfied for long. Remember just making the tournament isn't the ultimate goal around here. The Gamecocks successfully navigated the field of 64 a season ago and while he knows it won't be easy, Tanner's team understands what it takes to win in the postseason.
"Now it's just a matter of if you can gear up and play your best baseball at the right time," Tanner said. "We're excited to be home. We have a pretty good record at Carolina Stadium. ... Every (team's) going to be ready. Everybody's a winner. Everybody qualified or they were an at-large team. They have a reason to be in the tournament, so you just hope that your team can do the things they need to do and play relaxed and play well."
And, oh yeah, there's that issue of being the defending national champion.
"I don't think it'll be different. I don't think that our guys will be thinking about that at all. We're just hoping to be who we are and to play extremely tough and to play well. I think that being at home and hopefully sellout crowds will help the home team a little bit but it's a regional field that like I said, they're qualified to be here. ... They deserve to be here -- a lot of good teams -- and we're excited about that. I don't think anyone will be concerned about what happened in the past."
- South Carolina lifted weights Saturday after returning from Hoover and on Sunday. USC will hold two-a-days Monday and Tuesday before holding lighter workouts the rest of the week heading into the begining of the regional Friday.
- Tanner and his staff had not yet decided on a pitching rotation but did joke that Michael Roth will pitch this weekend. Tanner did add that Steven Neff would participate in a simulated start Monday and that he would looking forward to pitching at some point.
- Catcher Brady Thomas is likely going to be relegated to just having to play hurt, according to Tanner. He didn't believe that there would be much progress in his ankle healing. Tanner also said that Thomas was prepared to play hurt. Jackie Bradley, Jr. got his cast off last Friday but is not likely to play "at all, even if we get a chance to extend our season," Tanner said. He added that you "never say never" but that Bradley, Jr. was "certainly" out for the regional. Adam Matthews "continues to feel better but is still not a 'go' yet," Tanner said.
- Tanner says he serves as an adviser to the committee producing the teams and bracket, and that he had a conversation with them Sunday.
- Tanner says he likes the current format of how college baseball decides a champion.
- South Carolina junior left-handed pitcher Michael Roth was named to the 2011 SEC All-Tournament team on Sunday. Roth pitched the Gamecocks' first complete game of the season in the 7-3 win vs. Auburn.
After giving up three unearned runs in the top of the first, Roth battled the rest of the way and limited the Tigers to just three hits in the final eight innings. He retired 13 consecutive batters as well to end the game.
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