Breaking down the Columbia regional:
(1) NO. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (45-14)
League (record): Southeastern (22-8)
Coach (history): Ray Tanner (15th season; NC State '80; former head coach at NC State)
Quality wins: 6-3 and 5-4 over Clemson; 9-2 and 4-3 over Florida; 3-1 and 5-3 over Vanderbilt; 6-5 and 7-1 over Arkansas
Top hitters: 1B Christian Walker (.357, 9 HR, 57 RBIs); 2B Scott Wingo (.327, 4 HR, 25 RBIs); C Brady Thomas (.323, 4 HR, 36 RBIs); CF Evan Marzilli (.307, 2 HR, 28 RBIs)
Top pitchers: LHP Michael Roth (11-3, 1.17 ERA, 89 SO); RHP Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.13 ERA, 56 SO); RHP John Taylor (4-1, 1.08 ERA, 58 SO); RHP Matt Price (5-3, 2.47 ERA, 58 SO, 15 saves)
The skinny: A team that has battled through numerous injuries and adversity all season, South Carolina had every excuse on Earth to play a lot worse than it did, yet didn't. The Gamecocks' blue-collar approach to the game stirred them through the regular season, winning 44 of 56 in the regular season despite not being a dominating team. USC has OK hitting and excellent pitching, but its greatest strength is not beating itself. The Gamecocks are as fundamentally sound as any team in the country, despite a sluggish defensive showing at the SEC tournament, and wins by doing just enough to get by. USC had a target on its back all season as the defending national champion, lost several players to injury (including College World Series Most Outstanding Player Jackie Bradley Jr.) and still won the SEC regular-season championship. Back in the postseason with guaranteed home games, the Gamecocks are aiming for five wins and a return trip to Omaha.
(2) STETSON HATTERS (41-18)
League (record): Atlantic Sun (23-7)
Coach (history): Pete Dunn (32nd season; Stetson '72)
Quality wins: 6-3, 7-2 and 8-4 over Georgia; 5-3 over Illinois; 6-4 (11) over Florida State; 14-6, 9-4 over Jacksonville
Top hitters: C Nick Rickles (.353, 12 HR, 60 RBIs); SS Mark Jones (.339, 4 HR, 33 RBIs); RF Mitchel Brennan (.338, 1 HR, 13 RBIs); 2B Robert Crews (.336, 4 HR, 38 RBIs)
Top pitchers: RHP Kurt Schluter (8-0, 1.40 ERA, 55 SO); RHP Will Dorsey (7-5, 4.02 ERA, 62 SO); RHP Jake Boyd (8-1, 2.98 ERA, 53 SO, 5 saves); RHP Robbie Powell (5-3, 3.40 ERA, 45 SO, 8 saves)
Record against USC: 2-12
Last played USC: June 1, 2003 (9-3 USC in the championship game of the Atlanta NCAA Regional)
The skinny: One of the many in-state teams that feasts on Florida talent, Stetson is a proven team that almost played its way into a national seed. The Hatters lost the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship game to Jacksonville but are still coming to Columbia with a dangerous team. This isn't some team that's just having a great year; while Stetson may not have the name recognition of a Florida, Miami or Florida State, the Hatters win a lot of games and expect to be in the regionals every year. Dunn has won well over 1,100 career games in his 32 years at the school and has gone to 16 NCAA tournaments. The Hatters have never gone further than the regional championship game, though, and until they do, they'll always be the little school that's good, but not quite good enough. Stetson has also lost eight of its last 12 games.
(3) NC STATE WOLFPACK (34-25)
League (record): Atlantic Coast (15-15)
Coach (history): Elliott Avent (15th season; Virginia Commonwealth '83; former head coach at New Mexico)
Quality wins: 12-3 over Coastal Carolina; 6-0 and 5-3 over Clemson; 5-4, 8-7 and 10-2 over North Carolina; 6-2 over Virginia; 12-4 and 7-0 over Florida State
Top hitters: C Pratt Maynard (.331, 5 HR, 40 RBIs); SS Chris Diaz (.319, 2 HR, 32 RBIs); 1B Harold Riggins (.304, 3 HR, 33 RBIs); 2B Matt Bergquist (.289, 4 HR, 45 RBIs)
Top pitchers: RHP Cory Mazzoni (5-6, 3.38 ERA, 125 SO); RHP Danny Healey (2-4, 6.15 ERA, 43 SO); ); RHP Rob Chamra (8-2, 4.13 ERA, 38 SO); RHP Chris Overman (6-2, 2.54 ERA, 40 SO, six saves
Record against USC: 35-21
Last played USC: June 1, 2008 (2-1 NC State in the championship game of the Raleigh NCAA Regional)
The skinny: The Wolfpack's record isn't glowing, but they have had some very impressive wins playing in a tough ACC. The team has a very fluid offensive attack but its pitching is the weak link - Mazzoni is an artist on the mound but he'll probably only pitch once, leaving the chore to the rest of the staff. The history angle is heavy - Ray Tanner played and coached at NC State, and had Avent on his staff while there - but Tanner said he isn't thinking about that. The Wolfpack and Gamecocks pretty much knew that State would be coming to Columbia, so the scouting has probably already started, but it's not guaranteed that the two teams will play each other. State has had USC's number in recent years, but the Gamecocks have had a lot of other teams' numbers this season.
(4) GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (36-24)
League (record): Southern (18-12)
Coach (history): Rodney Hennon (12th season; Western Carolina '93)
Quality wins: 6-5 over Georgia Tech; 4-3 over St. John's; 7-0 over Florida; 20-7 over Jacksonville
Top hitters: SS Eric Phillips (.398, 4 HR, 39 RBIs); 1B Steve Cochrane (.332, 6 HR, 56 RBIs); RF Victor Roache (.327, 30 HR, 83 RBIs); CF Shawn Payne (.319, 6 HR, 39 RBIs)
Top pitchers: RHP Chris Beck (9-4, 3.21 ERA, 106 SO); RHP Josh Adams (9-6, 4.79 ERA, 39 SO); RHP Andy Moye (7-1, 2.54 ERA, 59 SO); RHP Matt Murray (4-3, 2.37 ERA, 69 SO, nine saves)
Record against USC: 48-85
Last played USC: March 23, 2010 (8-5 USC (13))
The skinny: The Eagles won the SoCon tournament championship game 1-0 and flew into the NCAA tournament for another year. Ray Tanner called them the best No. 4 seed in the country and he's not far off. Georgia Southern has a veteran team, stocked with power and pitching, and one of the country's best stories in Roache. In the year of the Dead Bat, Roache has jacked 30 homers and driven in 83 runs. GSU has been known for playing USC close - last year, the Gamecocks had to go to 13 innings in Statesboro before winning, and the year before, USC won 2-1 in seven innings in a rain-shortened affair. USC will have some decisions to make with its pitching staff - the natural thought is to stick with ace Michael Roth on Friday, but perhaps it would be prudent to see if Roth could be saved for Saturday.
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