Before heading to the SEC Tournament, South Carolina coach Mark Kingston was brimming with confidence about his team’s chances of hosting an NCAA regional, using terms like “slam dunk” and “no-brainer.”
The experts were a little less confident.
D1Baseball dropped the reeling Gamecocks from its top 25 and top 16 seeds prior to the SEC Tournament, and the prevailing sense was that USC had some work to do this week in Hoover, Alabama. USC started the tournament on a strong note with a blowout win over Georgia, but No. 10 seed Texas A&M dealt the No. 6 Gamecocks their second straight loss on Thursday, defeating USC 5-0 to send the Gamecocks back to Columbia.
Now, USC’s hosting fate is in the NCAA selection committee’s hands. And despite Kingston’s bullish spin on USC’s resume, there’s a chance the Gamecocks won’t hear their names called when the 16 regional hosts are announced Sunday night.
USC (39-19) has metrics that traditionally bode well for aspiring hosts. The Gamecocks rank No. 6 in RPI, No. 3 in strength of schedule and have 10 wins against Quadrant 1 teams. A sweep of Florida and a series win over Clemson — both projected national seeds — are impressive resume plot points. USC also has a series win over an NCAA tournament-bound Penn team.
The issue is with how the Gamecocks finished the season, going 4-11 and losing four straight SEC series after their sweep of Florida at home. Injuries to three starting infielders and starting pitchers Noah Hall and Will Sanders didn’t help, but going a month without winning a series could draw red flags from the committee. Series wins are just as important as team’s overall record, if not more important. Outside of the Florida series, USC’s only conference series wins came against bottom-tier SEC teams Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi State.
Winning a game in Hoover is helpful, but overall it was an uninspiring SEC tournament run. Lacking pitching options due to injuries, the USC bullpen collapsed against LSU on Wednesday, and the Gamecock offense couldn’t break through against LSU’s bullpen — one of the few weaknesses for the Tigers.
Thursday’s elimination game against the Aggies was even worse. The Gamecocks only mustered one hit — an infield single by Will Tippett — against Aggies starter Justin Lamkin, who came into the game with an ERA north of 6.00. USC’s offense barely registered a pulse as the Texas A&M bats put up five runs against top USC starter Jack Mahoney. Even Tippett’s infield single was somewhat of a gift from the Aggie shortstop Hunter Haas, who made an athletic play to field the ball but airmailed the throw over the first baseman’s head.
Prior to Thursday’s game, D1Baseball projected the Gamecocks as No. 15 seed and a regional host, with the caveat that “the Gamecocks need to beat A&M this morning to feel confident.” The Gamecocks have held steady as a No. 13 seed in Baseball America’s projected field of 64, but there’s bound to be movement in both projections as conference tournaments draw to a close around the country this weekend.
Key dates for USC baseball
Regional hosts announced: evening of Sunday, May 28
NCAA selection show: noon Monday, May 29 on ESPN2