COLUMBIA — There will be plenty of familiar faces at the Columbia NCAA baseball tournament regional hosted by South Carolina.
The Gamecocks are the top seed, with Clemson the second seed and Liberty the No. 3 seed. The Flames are coached by former South Carolina assistant Jim Toman. The fourth seed in the regional is Saint Louis. Games begin Friday.
This is the second year in a row Clemson (39-20) and South Carolina (39-18) have been in the same regional in Columbia. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers twice in the 2010 College World Series and twice in the 2012 Columbia regional.
The winner of the Columbia regional will play the winner of the regional hosted by the tournament’s top seed, North Carolina.
Coastal Carolina also made the tournament. The Chanticleers are a No. 3 seed in the regional hosted by Virginia Tech. They will play Oklahoma to open the tournament.
Clemson had hopes of hosting a regional of its own, but an 0-3 outing at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament likely doomed the Tigers chances.
Some were surprised to see Clemson make back-to-back trips to its biggest rival in the NCAA tournament’s opening round. But coach Jack Leggett said he was ready when Clemson’s name came up on the selection show.
“I’m never surprised anymore about anything,” Leggett said. “You just expect whatever comes our way. Obviously you’d love to be playing at home, but we didn’t make it work.”
South Carolina, who went 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference tournament, won two of three against Clemson this season and beat Liberty in two of three in the opening series of the season.
“In a perfect world, selfishly, I would love to play teams that we haven’t played yet,” first-year South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “Obviously, there’s parameters with the NCAA committee that they have to adhere to. Some of the stuff is regionalized a bit, and we have to play who they send us.”
Both Leggett and Holbrook stressed another Clemson-South Carolina postseason matchup is no guarantee. Liberty (34-27) won five games in a row in the Big South Conference tournament after losing the opener to take that league’s title. Saint Louis (41-19) lost the opener of the Atlantic 10 tournament before winning five in a row to win the title and a NCAA tournament bid.
“Our players get excited to play Clemson, but we’re not playing Clemson in game one and there’s no guarantee we’re going to play Clemson this weekend,” Holbrook said. “You have to keep that in perspective.”
Coastal Carolina (37-21) had to sweat after finishing second in the Big South in the regular season and falling in the conference tournament. The Chanticleers open with Oklahoma (40-19) on Friday. No. 1 seed Virginia Tech (38-20) plays fourth seed Connecticut (34-26) on the other side of the bracket. The winner plays the winner of the regional hosted by LSU.