VIDEO: USC press conference
NCAA COLUMBIA REGIONAL
Game 1 -- (2) No. 22 Clemson vs. (3) Liberty -- 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Game 2 -- (1) No. 18 South Carolina vs. (4) St. Louis -- 7 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3)
Game 3 -- Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 -- 2 p.m. (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Game 4 -- Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 -- 8 p.m. (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Game 5 -- Winner of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 -- 1 p.m. (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Game 6 -- Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 4 -- 7 p.m. (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Game 7 -- Winner of Game 6 vs. Loser of Game 6 (if necessary, ESPNU/ESPN3) -- 7 p.m. (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Leave it to the new guy to steal the show.
St. Louis coach Darin Hendrickson, who brings in a Billikens team with 41 wins and the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament championships, was feeling jovial at Thursday's practice/press conference day at Carolina Stadium. After South Carolina, Clemson and Liberty (led by former USC assistant coach Jim Toman) each took their turn at the microphone and answered questions about what could be another installment in the bad-blood USC-Clemson rivalry, Hendrickson sat down, introduced his players and kicked back.
"Please don't ask me who's going to win the South Carolina-Clemson game," he cracked.
The Billikens don't have to worry about facing a former assistant or beating a rival or extending/snapping streaks. All they have to worry about is winning ballgames, and they'll get their first crack at 7 p.m. on Friday against the No. 18 Gamecocks.
St. Louis has never played any of the other three teams in the regional. The Billikens do have a strong baseball tradition, winning the past two A-10 regular-season titles and three A-10 tournaments since 2006. One more win gives the Bills a school record for single-season victories.
The Billikens have one College World Series appearance to their credit. In 1965, St. Louis got to Omaha and went 1-2, being eliminated by eventual national champion Arizona State.
RIVALRY REMATCH?: Of course USC coach Chad Holbrook and Clemson coach Jack Leggett were each asked about the potential for a rivalry matchup on Saturday. The devil's advocate suggests that ESPN picked an 8 p.m. start for that winner's bracket game on the chance that the two would meet for the fourth time this year.
Naturally, neither wanted to discuss it too much. They don't play each other on Friday and may not play each other at all.
"My job is really to focus in on tomorrow," Leggett said. "Obviously, it puts a little twist on the tournament because everybody wants to talk about it. We played them in a three-game series, just like everybody in our conference, so it's almost like they're in our conference."
USC won the regular-season series 2-1 this year and has only lost the regular-season series to Clemson twice since 2006 (the teams split four games in 2009). In one of those losses, 2010, USC beat the Tigers twice in the College World Series on their way to the national championship.
The Gamecocks lead the all-time postseason series with Clemson 6-3, but have won the six in a row (2002, 2010, 2012). Leggett was the skipper in every one of the losses.
"I wouldn't say it's really any added motivation," Clemson center fielder Thomas Brittle said. "At this point, every game is big. We have to get a win (on Friday) before we can focus on Saturday."
WELCOME HOME: Toman visited USC for a three-game series to open this season and was back at Carolina Stadium on Thursday. A USC assistant coach for 11 years under Ray Tanner (and who also worked for Tanner for seven years at NC State), Toman reflected on his plans for Carolina Stadium.
When the stadium was being discussed, Toman was asked to design his future office. He did, but his suggestion of a hot tub was ignored.
FAVORING THE WINNERS?: While the discussion was centering on the potential of a USC-Clemson game, the stats showed that the best matchups might be between St. Louis and Liberty. The Billikens and Flames have each won five straight games.
USC has lost three straight. Clemson has lost five straight.
INJURIES: As expected, USC second baseman Max Schrock (concussion) has been cleared to play and should start on Friday. Clemson pitcher Matthew Crownover, who skipped the ACC tournament with pain in his left forearm, should also be able to pitch this weekend.
ON THE BUMP: Starting pitchers for Friday's games were finalized.
South Carolina -- LHP Nolan Belcher (7-5, 2.30 ERA)
Clemson -- LHP Zack Erwin (5-1, 3.30 ERA)
Liberty -- RHP Josh Richardson (3-4, 2.45 ERA)
St. Louis -- RHP Clay Smith (8-2, 3.76 ERA)
DO I KNOW YOU?: St. Louis faced an average of 137 home fans and 420 visiting fans this season. Carolina Stadium holds 8,272 and every seat plus more is expected to be filled for the Billikens-Gamecocks game on Friday.