Unfamiliar foes await Gamecocks in regional

In 2011 the Gamecocks have overcome great adversity as they battled through the toughest conference in America, eventually emerging as SEC regular season champions. But the NCAA tournament is a whole different animal, and three new teams will invade Columbia for an NCAA regional as they try to knock off the defending national champions.

The opening game of the NCAA regional will be USC's 60th game of the season. They come in with a stellar 45-14 record, despite losing several regulars during the season and coming into it with a great deal of uncertainty on the pitcher's mound.

South Carolina will take on the number four seed Georgia Southern Eagles in the first contest, and will be joined by number two seed Stetson and three seed North Carolina State. The Gamecocks have not faced any of these teams this year, most recently playing GSU in an extra inning game in Statesboro last season.

Despite being a heavy favorite as the number four national seed, South Carolina still faces a difficult task in the first round. And Coach Ray Tanner said that includes all the teams, starting with a Georgia Southern team that features a thirty home run man in Victor Roache.

"It's a tough field," said Tanner. "With a quick look at the same thing you guys saw, I've got to think Georgia Southern is the best number four seed in the country. That's a tough regional."

Although some might think that playing teams that are familiar might be an advantage, Coach Tanner said that he enjoys regionals that give him and his team something new to experience, saying that is what really makes the atmosphere of postseason college baseball.

"There's been a couple of circumstances in regionals where you play teams you've already played," said Tanner. "I like the atmosphere of NCAA baseball playing people that you haven't played before, and that's the case for us this weekend, we've got three other teams here that we did not play in the regular season. And I like that from that standpoint. I think that does give you the feel of postseason play. I like playing different teams, so from that standpoint it's a good regional."

South Carolina does have the possibility of facing familiar foes Clemson or Coastal Carolina in the super regional round should they advance. But Tanner and his players repeatedly assured that they were looking only at the teams in their regional and concerned with beating them before worrying about anything else.

Pitcher Michael Roth said he was looking forward to the challenge of these new teams and what they brought to the regional. One team he mentioned as being tough was Stetson, who finished the season with a 41-18 record.

"It's a completely new group that we haven't played any of those teams in awhile," said Roth. "It should be a lot of fun and be a challenge for us. They're obviously good teams. I think Stetson early on in the year was looking to maybe host a regional. It's not going to be easy."

Outfielder Evan Marzilli and first baseman Christian Walker also praised the teams in the Columbia regional, and stressed that each round of the NCAA tournament is difficult, even if you are one of the top eight national seeds.

Ray Tanner's alma mater North Carolina state will enter as the three seed and play Stetson in the regional's opening game on Friday at 1 p.m.

"We know that the teams that we drew are very good teams," said Marzilli. "It's not going to be an easy path no matter what teams we get in the regional, they're all pretty good. So we just have to come out and be ready to play on Friday and do what we have to do."

With a top eight seed, the Gamecocks are guaranteed to host a super regional should they advance, and the winner of the Columbia regional will face the winner of the Clemson regional.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Walker. "I feel like everyone has another gear to kick it into when you come to the postseason and you can't take anything for granted and you can't take anybody lightly. Like I said, we're looking forward to it."

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories