June 10, 2010

By Charles Bennett
Special to NCAA.com

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - There seems to be a difference of opinion between Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore and South Carolina coach Ray Tanner concerning the favorite's role in this weekend's NCAA Division I baseball Super Regional at BB&T Coastal Field.

Predictably, each coach makes a convincing case for the other team.

"We're the underdogs," Tanner said. "They're a national seed, they're playing at home. We're the underdogs. It's just the way it is."

Gilmore is having none of it.

"How in the world can he be the underdog?" argues Gilmore. "Here's a guy who is one of the best coaches in the country, has one of the best programs in the country, and has played unbelievable all year in the Southeastern Conference. I've never been to Omaha. He's been to Omaha three times and played for a National Championship. I've never done any of those things. For us to be considered the favorite is a joke. I know there's no way in the world that we can be considered the favorite by any stretch of the imagination."

Regardless of whose rhetoric seems more believable when it comes to the favorite's role, the best-of-three series between Coastal, the No. 4 national seed from the mid-major Big South Conference, and the Gamecocks, annually one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, rates as one of the more intriguing match-ups on the road to the College World Series.

Game 1 of the series is set for Saturday at 12 p.m. (EDT). Game 2 will be Sunday at 1 p.m. and a third game, if needed will be played on Sunday. The opener will be televised live on ESPNU.

Here are the Chanticleers of the mid-major Big South with a gaudy record of 55-8 and a boatload of staggering statistics.

How about 107 homeruns, 160 stolen bases in 196 attempts and a staff earned run average of 3.51?

Then there's South Carolina with a record of 46-15, including a 21-9 record in the SEC, arguably the best baseball conference in the nation.

The Gamecocks also have a rich tradition, with 11 consecutive seasons of NCAA Regional appearances, 40 or more victories during the same stretch, and eight trips all-time to the College World Series, including three runner-up finishes. And if that's not enough to create a compelling matchup, it's safe to say without so much as a backward glance at the record books that this is the first Super Regional showdown between teams whose mascots are roosters.

As such, it's not a surprise that the players from both teams display mutual respect while losing none of their strut.

"When you go undefeated in your conference, I don't care if it's a high school conference, that's very, very impressive," South Carolina outfielder Whit Merrifield said of Coastal. "So we know they're a good team. But we're very battle-tested. When you get to this point in the season and you've been through what we've been through, no one really comes at you that you think is unbeatable. We come at it as another SEC weekend. We've got to go win two games and move on."

Likewise, Coastal pitcher Anthony Meo offers a tip of the cap to the Gamecocks' accomplishments without taking away from those of the Chanticleers.

"They're a great team from the SEC, which we all know is a great baseball conference," Meo said, "but we feel like we earned our spot as a national seed. We don't back down from anybody."

Another interesting angle on the South Carolina-Coastal series is the scouting edge that may belong to the Gamecocks.

The College of Charleston, which gave Coastal all it could handle in last weekend's regional, is coached by former Tanner assistant Monte Lee.

In addition, Liberty, coached by former Tanner aide Jim Toman, plays in the Big South.

"Ray's going to want to know what I eat for breakfast and what color underwear I have on," Gilmore said. "There's no doubt about it. But that's fine."

Tanner admits he may have an edge in the scouting department - to a point.

"I think it's safe to say that we will have very good scouting report on Coastal," he said. "Being able to execute it and perform will be another challenge."