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June 1, 2014

Parity prevalent in college baseball

If nothing else, the 2014 NCAA Baseball Tournament is proving once and for all that parity is prevalent throughout college baseball.

National seeds Florida and Florida State exited quickly from Regionals in their home ballparks, while No. 1 national seed Oregon State was hammered at home, 14-2, by Cal-Irvine late Saturday night.

It doesn't end there. Maryland, of course, upended South Carolina, 4-3, in a winner's bracket game, while underrated Texas Tech shocked host Miami (Fla.) in Coral Gables. Tiny Jackson State stunned national seed Louisiana-Lafayette on the Bayou.

Who controls their destiny in the Tallahassee Regional? None other than third-seeded Kennesaw State, perhaps the underdog of all underdogs in this year's tournament.

College of Charleston, coached by former Gamecock assistant Monte Lee, is one win away from a trip to the Super Regionals.

Everywhere, smaller and less heralded schools are rising up and beating bigger, better known and better financed schools, often on their home fields.

Already, a record number of four seeds have triumphed in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Parity is a wonderful thing for fans, but perhaps not if you are a head coach of one of those bigger schools and must explain to your fans how your team lost to a school many of them had never heard of before the tournament started.

"There are a lot of universities now committed to the sport of baseball and there are a lot of good teams out there," USC coach Chad Holbrook said after Sunday's 9-0 victory over Campbell. "On top of that, the (deadened) bat is a great equalizer. It makes the games touch-and-go, nip-and-tuck. When they did the bats the way they did, I thought a day like this in the NCAA Tournament could happen and some four seeds could win and maybe advance."

Gamecock fans, of course, got an up close and personal view of college baseball's parity last night when USC fell, 4-3, to Maryland at Carolina Stadium.

"Parity is college baseball is very apparent," Holbrook said. "There is not much separation between the teams and not much separation between us and some teams that didn't make the NCAA Tournament. When we played Tennessee, they were just as good as we were. It's a fine line. We're lucky to still be playing. Hopefully, we can find a way to win another one."

The Maryland program has been plodding along for years, but hire an aggressive coach (John Szefc), add a few power arms such as promising freshman Mike Shawaryn (6.1 UIP, 5 hits, 3 runs) and suddenly the Terps are making noise in the NCAA Tournament, snapping USC's 28-game home winning streak in the NCAA Tournament.

"We're going to have to play nine innings of really good offensive baseball to have a chance to win," Holbrook said.

By virtue of its 9-0 victory over Campbell Sunday afternoon, the Gamecocks must now beat Maryland twice to advance to the Super Regionals. Holbrook hopes Wil Crowe's complete game four-hit shutout has put the USC pitching staff in a good place for USC's second straight elimination game on Sunday.

"Not only was it an incredible performance by him, it gives us a better opportunity in the game tonight because we got to rest our bullpen," Holbrook said. "It was a big win for us. We get to play Maryland tonight with a chance to even the score, so to speak.

"But we have our hands full with a really good Maryland team. We're playing at home, so if we find a way to win tonight, everything is even and we'll have a championship here tomorrow night. But we're still trying to dig ourselves out of a hole. We have a lot of work in front of us."

Max Schrock, who was 2-for-2 with two RBI in the win over Campbell, was lifted for a pinch-runner in the fourth inning after doubling and Holbrook listed his status as questionable for win-or-else contest against Maryland Sunday.

"I don't know if he'll be able to go or not," Holbrook said. "I got him out of there just thinking it was our only chance to get him tonight by getting him into the training room and get him some treatment."

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