There’s only one way a baseball-crazy Palmetto State can constructively respond to official word that Coastal Carolina is the lone team from Fort Sumter to Sassafras Mountain allowed into the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
To work out frustration, we must stage a Second-Best Baseball Team in South Carolina Tournament.
It’s sort of like the NIT, but with more biscuits.
Site: Venues all over a state free from NCAA regional host obligations.
Second-Best first prize for winning a tournament not including college baseball’s 64 best teams: dinner at the 65th-best restaurant in Columbia.
Sounds fun for several squads, but University of South Carolina and Clemson fan bases deserve much better.
A South Carolina administrator with knowledge of the school’s decision to keep Mark Kingston as baseball coach said May 29 that contract buyout commitments to former football coach Will Muschamp and former basketball coach Frank Martin was “definitely a consideration” in allowing Kingston back for a sixth season.
Apathy can be more expensive.
At Clemson, if first-year athletic director Graham Neff made it publicly clear that the men’s basketball team “did not meet our expectations” when the Tigers missed the 2022 NCAA Tournament after making it 2021, baseball coach Monte Lee has some explaining to do.
This is the first time the Clemson baseball program has missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since 1985 and 1986.
Fan frustration is reflected in a ranking of South Carolina’s NCAA Division I teams:
1. Coastal Carolina
The program that produced a 2016 national title keeps rolling under head coach Gary Gilmore, in his 27th season. Going 4-0 against state teams (2-0 vs. Clemson, 2-0 vs. College of Charleston) is a big reason why the Chanticleers (36-18-1) are a No. 3 seed in the Greenville, N.C., Regional vs. No. 2 Virginia on June 3.
Mike Buddie is the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee chair, and a former Furman athletic director now the Army AD. He said after the May 30 reveal it was “splitting hairs” picking the last few at-large teams.
Wofford (42-16-1) was one of the “first four out.” Back-to-back losses to No. 4 seed UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference Tournament burst the bubble.
Catcher Lawson Hill (300 career hits) and the rest of the Terriers deserved better.
3. College of Charleston
Whatever the RPI says, the Cougars (37-19) get the edge over Clemson because they beat the Tigers in a May 10 game in Columbia that was critical for both teams.
And because they won the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship.
And beat No. 8 national seed East Carolina (twice) and No. 9 national seed Texas. No other team in the state did as well against such high seeds.
There’s a lot of young talent, including sophomore Max Wagner, the ACC Player of the Year, and freshman Will Taylor, also a budding football star. There’s still big-time hope for Caden Grice after a sophomore slump, relatively speaking.
Neff’s interviews with players should tell a lot at a time when retaining good players and having a culture that attracts more in the transfer portal is crucial.
5. South Carolina
No doubt, making the field of 64 is tough. Defending national champion Mississippi State isn’t in the 2022 NCAA Tournament either, and finished behind the Gamecocks in the SEC standings.
But Kingston needs to win the offseason with transfer portal and recruiting gains to muster a little enthusiasm, if not authentic excitement.
Pitching injuries were a huge factor in a 27-28 season that included non-conference losses to The Citadel, Presbyterian, USC Upstate and Charlotte.
6. USC Upstate
An almost excellent season for the Spartans, 35-22-1, including a win at South Carolina. But the No. 2 seed fell into the loser’s bracket of the Big South Tournament with a second-round loss to Charleston Southern, which USC Upstate swept in the regular year.
7. Charleston Southern
A Big South Tournament run that included a 3-2 loss to top seed Campbell in a winner-take-all championship game May 29 gives the Bucs (24-30) the edge here over Presbyterian.
A 9-6 upset win at South Carolina was the highlight of a 22-32 season. Head coach Elton Pollock’s usually overachieving program made the NCAA Tournament with a Big South championship in 2021 and is in fine shape.
9. The Citadel
A typically tough non-conference schedule, and a glorious 4-3 victory over South Carolina at Riley Park. But still struggling to re-gain SoCon traction (26-31, 5-16 in conference play).
Five NCAA Tournament appearances for the Eagles, but none since 2006. On the bright side, an 18-34 squad won five of its last seven games.
Which means the Second-Best Baseball Team in South Carolina Tournament bracket looks like this: (there is no No. 1 seed as a tribute to Coastal Carolina):
No. 2 Wofford vs. The No. 9 Citadel/No. 10 Winthrop winner
No. 3 College of Charleston vs. No. 8 Presbyterian
No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 7 Charleston Southern
No. 5 South Carolina vs. No. 6 USC Upstate
Single-elimination, of course.
And then the long wait till next year.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.