USC ready for clean slate in Regional action
The person who coined the phrase "all good things must come to an end" might have been talking about the 2009 edition of the South Carolina baseball team. Before the month of May, the Gamecocks were a 27-18 team struggling to stay in contention in SEC play. But as the month turned so did Carolina's fortune as they rode 10 wins in 11 games to a fifth place finish in the conference standings.
So does a 1-2 showing in the SEC Tournament worry USC coach Ray Tanner about what his team might do in the NCAA Regionals? Not really. After rallying back for an extra inning win against Alabama and falling in back-to-back, bases loaded heartbreakers to Vanderbilt and LSU, Tanner is hopeful that those moments are behind his team as they open the Greenville, N.C. Regional with a 3 p.m. game against George Mason today.
"I think that we won a close one in that first game against Alabama in that 11 inning affair and then we had our crack certainly in the ninth inning against Vandy. LSU we put some pressure on there at the end," Tanner said. "In the game of baseball you say those things even out. You're not going to rally all the time. We did against Alabama and we didn't the next two. Maybe we've got a rally left in us for a Regional. We'll see."
The pressure packed situations are nothing new for the Gamecocks (38-21) who will make their 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament under Tanner this weekend. The roster, which was filled with first-year players, has overcome its youth and a lot of adversity. That tough nosed attitude can be credited to Tanner who continues to offer a simple philosophy to his team – once you get to the postseason you get to start over. That mindset is what numerous USC players credit as their focus during the late season stretch that propelled the Gamecocks from the brink of not making the 64 team field to a team that was in contention to nearly host a Regional of its own.
"I wouldn't say that our backs were against the wall, but we've been playing uphill for most of the season until the last 10 or 15 games. We were trying to get in the conversation of postseason and we ended up finishing fifth in the league, which is good enough to make you comfortable when you come home from the SEC Tournament," Tanner said. "So we're even again. Everybody starts 0-0 and it's about who plays some good baseball right now."
That good baseball will take place in a Regional where the Gamecocks might be the biggest name in the four-team field. Each of the other three teams in the field claimed either its conference regular season or conference tournament title en route to making the field. George Mason (42-12) is one of two Colonial Athletic Association teams to make this year's field.
USC will send right hander Sam Dyson out for Game 1 against the Patriots on Friday in hopes of getting things started off in the winner's bracket. While it's been a fun ride for Tanner and his team up to this point, his hope is that the ride is far from over.
"I'm very excited about being able to go to the NCAA Regional. I guess prior to the SEC Tournament we were 27-18 and we won 10 out of 11, which completely changed our position," Tanner said. "So I'm very, very happy that we're in the conversation today and I'm proud of our guys for playing well down the stretch. I'm excited about going to Greenville."
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