NCAA Baseball Tournament 2013: Columbia Regional Preview -- The Teams South Carolina Will Host

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

One of the most intense rivalries in college baseball, a team that won five straight games for its league title and a 41-win four seed take the field. Oh, yeah, and one of those teams has won two of the last three national championships

Looking at the NCAA baseball tournament regionals that involve SEC teams

COLUMBIA REGIONAL
Winner faces winner of the Chapel Hill Regional

(1) South Carolina
RPI: 13
Record: 39-18, 17-12 SEC

In case you haven't heard, South Carolina won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011 before losing in their third straight trip to the championships series in 2012. Now, in Chad Holbrook's first year, the Gamecocks are looking to claim their third title in four years and wipe away any questions about whether we're in the middle of a South Carolina dynasty. But the Gamecocks lost four of their last five games, including flawlessly executing their annual flop in Hoover. The leader on offense is LB Dantzler, who's slugging an absurd .648 with the help of his 15 home runs. Joey Pankake has 10 homers. Second baseman Max Schrock is looking good to go after suffering a concussion in the SEC tournament, and the pitching is solid. The Gamecocks took two of three from both Clemson and Liberty early in the season, but the question right now is whether the Gamecocks can snap out of their late-season funk.

(2) Clemson
RPI: 14
Record: 39-20, 18-12 ACC

I'm not sure if all the outrage over Clemson being sent to the Columbia Regional is entirely justified -- but it does at least seem rather unusual to see a team with an RPI of 14 in the same bracket as a team with an RPI of 13. In any case, if both teams win (or lose) the right games, it gives us the opportunity for one of the most intense rivalries in college baseball to play out again in the postseason. There's not quite as much power here as there is on the cross-state rival's roster, but there is a lot of speed. The Tigers stole 110 bases on 149 attempts, and there's no reason to believe they're going to stop running now. Plus, the pitching is also pretty good in the Upstate, with a team ERA of 3.17, including Matthew Crownover's 2.05 mark and Daniel Gossett's 2.53. Gossett can also be a touch, um, unpredictable -- he's thrown 15 wild pitches and plunked eight batters this year, both team highs.

(3) Liberty
RPI: 53
Record: 34-27, 13-11 Big South

Your Big South champions come in having won five straight after an early loss in the league tournament last week. Liberty did take one game from South Carolina and one from Georgia while ultimately losing both of those SEC series -- but you only need one win in the NCAA tournament to really mess up an opponent. The Flames cranked out 32 home runs, with no player hitting more than seven, while the pitching staff has a combined ERA of 4.06 -- the highest in the region. Overall, this is an average to below-average Big South team that won the tournament, but that can provide just the kind of boost a would-be Cinderella needs to spring a couple of upsets.

(4) Saint Louis
RPI: 76
Record: 41-19, 17-7 Atlantic 10

It's not every day you see a regional where the only team with more than 40 wins is the four-seed. The Billikens -- their mascot is basically a "pet rock," in the words of the school -- do come in with some SEC experience. They lost 8-7 in 11 innings to Ole Miss at the beginning of May. The best player is probably Alex Kelly, who slugs .546 with 11 home runs and has an on-base percentage of .427. But don't fall asleep on Mike Vigliarolo or Grant Nelson, who also bring big bats with slugging percentages over .900.

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