NOTEBOOK: Respect but no rivalry

Ray Tanner and Kevin O'Sullivan aren't willing to call it a rivalry, but there's plenty of mutual respect between the two head coaches. And is there a magic formula to winning 21 straight games? Look inside to find out, plus the latest on catcher Grayson Greiner.

South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner and Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan stop short of calling South Carolina vs. Florida a rivalry.

Call it what you wish, but the Gamecocks and Gators have had some memorable battles on the baseball diamond in recent years.

In 2010 Florida took two of three games from Carolina in Columbia to win the SEC Title. In 2011, the Gamecocks took two of three in Gainesville before tying with Florida and Vanderbilt for the SEC. The Gamecocks, of course, went on to beat Florida in two games in Omaha to win their second straight national championship.

This season the Gators took two of three in Columbia including a closely contested one-run game three before they torched the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament.

These two teams just always seem to find each other. So it came as no surprise when it just so happened to work out that they happen to face each other Saturday night in Omaha at the College World Series.

"We've had some good games and good battles, but rivalry does sometimes have a negative connotation," Tanner said. "I think it's all about respect. ... I think the players on both sides really enjoy it. Nobody likes to lose, of course, but you really enjoy it."

O'Sullivan shares the sentiment.

"I don't know if rivalry is the right word," he says. "I think there is mutual respect on both sides. ... I've got a great deal of respect for Ray and his program. I will tell you that. Every time you play them, you have to play your best. It's never going to be easy. Obviously, Saturday night will be no different."

Every good rivalry needs a few extra storylines to stoke the flame and this one isn't lacking.

Before taking over at Florida, O'Sullivan was an assistant at South Carolina's archrival Clemson.

"I knew that when Coach O'Sullivan went to Florida, they were headed to the top," Tanner says. "When I heard that Jeremy Foley hired Kevin, my response was dang, because I knew what was coming.

'He's excelled. He's excelled as a player. He's excelled as an assistant coach, and it doesn't get any better. His impact on the Gators is evident."

The two sat right beside each other in Thursday afternoon's CWS preview press conference, exchanging compliments and smiling. But come first pitch Saturday night, they'll transform into two of the fiercest competitors the game.

They may not want to call it one, but it will sure feel like a rivalry.

"If they play as good as they're capable, they're almost impossible to beat," Tanner said. "We'll have to play as good as you can play to have an opportunity, but isn't that the way it should be?"

Finding the formula

Tanner insists that there is no magic formula he's discovered to steer his Gamecocks to an NCAA-record 21-straight NCAA Tournament wins and two straight national titles.

But there's no doubt the Gamecocks' leader has orchestrated the program to heights its never seen before.

"Just like in Gainesville and these other programs in the SEC, you have a chance that if you can win enough games to get to the postseason, you have an opportunity," Tanner says. "Our guys don't think that they're unbeatable by any stretch of the imagination. They do think we have a chance. It's confidence, but it's not arrogance. It's respect for the other team and perspective. Have we been lucky? Has it been a tremendous run? Absolutely. It's kind of hard to even imagine it to be honest with you."

The streak is something that Tanner struggles to explain or even understand himself.

his colleagues have an equally difficult time putting it into words.

"It's near impossible," Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin said. "But somehow Coach Tanner has done it. To be back here again is a testament to their program, their coaching staff and what they've been able to develop."

"The thing that's been remarkable is Ray gets his teams to play the best at the end of the year," O'Sullivan added. "That is our goal as coaches to try to do that. It really didn't hit me how much it was until we were flying back last year. You know, to win one National Championship is all of our goals. But to do it in back to back years is an unbelievable accomplishment."

While it may be impossible to put into words, Tanner does describe his philosophy: to put pressure on the team in the other dugout.

Five years ago, pressure may have meant Justin Smoak up with two runners on. In the BBCOR era, pressure means continuing to bunt on a wet field against Oklahoma in the Super Regional with Tanner English's speed at the plate and the Sooners struggling to make defensive plays.

"The thing I tell my players all the time now, is we may not win, but we're going to try to win," Tanner says. "Which means, you can make a mistake. You can make a move, try to do something that doesn't work; it could backfire. At the end of the day, I think that gives you a better chance than to be tentative and hope some good things happen. You've got to create something and if it doesn't work, you [still] tried to win."

And it shows, according to Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team is also on USC's side of the bracket.

"Everything seems to be going good in South Carolina now," he says. "Every time we play them, it's the same team. They're so steady. They don't make hardly any mistakes. Their fielding percentage every year is around .980, which is incredible. I picked his brain to figure out how he's doing it."

If there is some type of magic formula to winning national titles, Tanner certainly isn't sharing it.

His teams the last two years have shown a knack for making their biggest plays when it really mattered. From Jackie Bradley, Jr.'s game-tying single through the right side in 2010, to Scott Wingo's back-to-back throws to the plate to cut down the potential winning run for Florida in 2011, Tanner's teams have made plays in the clutch. And for that he gives them all the credit.

"You can't do it in practice," Tanner says. "You have to make plays, you have to have good players and you have to have some luck too. I don't think there is any question about that.

"Once you get to this point, and I know that there's maybe two or three teams here that may be the favorites, it really comes down to who is going to make the plays and the pitches and come up with this big hit. I don't think it's a magic formula now. It's just who plays the game the best."

Greiner back in play?

South Carolina All-SEC freshman catcher Grayson Greiner is getting closer to being back in the lineup after missing the first two weeks of the tournament with a torn meniscus he suffered two days before the Columbia Regional began.

"He's getting close. I think, maybe, he's almost there," Tanner said. "I don't know if he's 100 percent, but he blocked a little bit (Wednesday).

Which is not maybe a good idea at this point in the year that we're working on blocking drills, but we needed to see his flexibility, so Coach (Sammy Esposito) had him blocking a little bit (Wednesday). I was paying attention and I think he was a little bit tentative, but we've still got a couple of days before we play."

Tanner said if the Gamecocks played Thursday that he'd probably start Dante Rosenberg, who has been excellent defensively in Greiner's absence and has also executed well at the plate in bunt situations.

But Greiner has power potential that Rosenberg lacks and was the Gamecocks' starting catcher for all of the second half of the season after sharing time with Rosenberg in the first half.

"I think he's pretty excited to be back there," Tanner said. "That being said, Rosenberg has been pretty good for us. We may have a decision to make."

Greiner will at the very least be available as a designated hitter, Tanner says, but whether or not he would fill that role would depend more on how he matches up with Brian Johnson compares to Tanner's other options.

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