It has finally happened.
For the first time since the NCAA went to its current format in 1999, South Carolina and Clemson will be playing in the same Regional. Whether or not they will match up is yet to be seen, but the two teams that make up the biggest rivalry in college baseball over the last decade will be in the same stadium. South Carolina (40-17) was awarded a Regional site Sunday and received one of the eight national seeds on Monday. Shortly after learning that they earned the eighth and final national seed, the Gamecocks learned that Clemson (33-26) was heading down to Columbia.
The potential Saturday match-up between Carolina and Clemson would be the fifth postseason meeting between the two schools since 2002, but will be the first time they will meet outside of Omaha. Twice South Carolina overcame an opening game loss in Omaha to roll through the losers bracket and beat the Tigers twice to advance to the National Championship game. In 2002 the Gamecocks beat Clemson 12-4 and 10-2 before falling to Texas in the National Championship game. Just two seasons ago Carolina beat Clemson 5-1 and 4-3 en route to the first National Championship.
The two teams nearly met in Columbia last season as the Columbia and Clemson Regionals were paired up with each other. The excitement was at a fever pitch for the Super Regional match-up that appeared to be destined to happen. The Gamecocks did their job, breezing their way through their Regional and awaited the results of the Clemson/Connecticut game. All the Tigers needed to do was win once, but it was UConn that came away with a 7-6 win and followed it up with a 14-1 blowout win to deny Clemson the opportunity to come to Columbia.
This season Clemson has backed their way into the Columbia Regional after losing five of their last six games. The lone win was an impressive come-from-behind 9-7 walk-off win against then number one Florida State in last weekend's ACC Tournament. Before they can think of a contest with the Gamecocks, they must first go through a Coastal team that both Carolina and Clemson are well-aware of.
While the Chanticleers (41-17) are not as strong as the 2010 team that Carolina knocked off in the Myrtle Beach Super Regional, they're still pretty good. Daniel Bowman and Rich Witten – both were starters in 2010 – lead the Chanticleer offense with a .401 and .350 batting average, respectively. Coastal also has one of the top pitchers in the state, Tyler Herb. Herb sports an 8-2 record with a 2.87 ERA and will get the starting nod Friday afternoon against Clemson. The Chanticleers also have the advantage of winning the only match-up between the two teams in 2012, a 10-7 win in Clemson earlier this season in a mid-week game.
Carolina must get past Manhattan (33-25) to move on to the winner's bracket game to meet the winner of the CCU/Clemson game. The Jaspers are jumping into the proverbial lion's den with the Gamecocks, Tigers, and Chanticleers. Manhattan may be a bit intimidated when he walks onto the field at Carolina Stadium, having not played a single member of this season's NCAA Tournament field. Still, the Jaspers are in the tournament for a reason, and all it takes is a great pitching performance and clutch hits to pull off the upset.
In the end, if the seeding goes as it should, it will be the Gamecocks and Tigers meeting at 4:00 Saturday afternoon in what could be one of the greatest environments in college baseball history.
The anticipation mounts.
Could it finally happen?
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