Originally created 06/12/04

Similar teams, different coaches in super regional



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- East Carolina coach Randy Mazey is brash and bold, almost begging South Carolina fans to bring as much grief on the former Clemson player as they can during this weekend's NCAA tournament super regional.

Gamecock coach Ray Tanner is quiet and careful, cracking an occasional deadpan joke but making sure not to say anything to rile anybody up.

In attitudes, East Carolina and South Carolina mirror their coaches. But in performance, two very similar teams will take the field Saturday for the start of the best-of-3 super regional.

"They can hit, they can pitch and they can play really good defense," Mazey said of the Gamecocks.

But he could have been talking about his team too.

East Carolina has the better batting average at .321, compared to .297, but the teams have similar power numbers. South Carolina has 101 home runs, just one more than the Pirates. The Gamecocks have the better team ERA at 3.35, compared to 3.73 for East Carolina. And their fielding percentages are within three-tenths of a percent of each other.

South Carolina will start junior Matt Campbell in Saturday's opener. He is 9-4 with an ERA of 3.02 and a team-best 129 strikeouts in 107 innings.

The Pirates likely will start ace Greg Bunn, the Conference USA pitcher of the year, on four days rest. The junior right-hander is 10-0 with a 2.66 ERA and 109 strikeouts in nearly 102 innings.

Outside the matchups, it still will be a super regional fill of subplots. East Carolina is trying to make it to its first College World Series in honor of former coach Keith LeClair, who resigned in 2002 after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

The Pirates are hungry for national respect after six NCAA tournament appearances.

Meanwhile, South Carolina is dealing with the unusual role of being a heavy favorite. The Gamecocks are the nation's No. 2 seed and have become a trendy pick to win it all this year. And they are trying to parlay their fifth straight super regional appearance into a third straight trip to Omaha.

Tanner doesn't need to remind his team what happened the last time they had this many accolades. In 2000, Louisiana-Lafayette came to Sarge Frye Field and knocked off South Carolina, who was the nation's top seed.

But the coach also prefers to be in a situation where his players know what to expect instead of trying to calm their boiling emotions as they experience something new.

"I'd rather be the hunted than the hunter," Tanner said. "I like that."

Ultimately, in a series where the talent is so close, Tanner's steady optimism or Mazey's brazenness may make the difference.

With a smile on his face, the first thing Mazey said to reporters Friday was "boy, it's good to be back."

As a Clemson player from 1985-88, Mazey remembers the Gamecocks hecklers who were "world-renowned in their own eyes."

When asked if his team should be hosting this weekend's regional, Mazey said he wasn't going to take issue with the NCAA selection committee, then reminded the reporters his team was ranked No. 3 this weekend by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association poll.

"I have no problem believing we are one of the three best teams in the nation right now," Mazey said.

Even the Pirates' pre-game ritual is aggressive. After Mazey gives the umpire his lineup card, his players grab him in what looks like a cross between a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert and a rugby scrum.

That's not Tanner's style. He wasn't in the dogpiles when the Gamecocks achieved milestones in years past and probably will calmly walk out of his dugout and shake some hands if South Carolina wins this weekend's super regional.

But Tanner doesn't mind Mazey's theatrics, either. In fact, the two are good friends.

"He's doing what he needs to do with that program," Tanner said.

Mazey figures his jabs could take the heat away from his team.

"I'll be happy to take everything that comes out of the stands to keep it away from my guys," Mazey said.

Mazey's words have made it to the South Carolina locker room. But true to their style, the Gamecocks aren't showing whether they have had any effect.

Catcher Landon Powell shrugged when asked about them and simply said, "We're aware of his comments."

Tanner will let the paying customers handle Mazey. "That's between him and the fans," Tanner said. "I hope he has a good time."

Mazey couldn't leave without one more jab at the fans after he was asked if he was going to wear any Tiger orange along with his Pirate purple.

"I've got a tiger paw tattoo somewhere on my body," Mazey said. "And I'm going to show it to them after this is over."