USC vs. Coastal: Heated rivalry few know about

06/09/2010 12:00 AM

06/08/2010 10:57 PM

South Carolina and Coastal Carolina's campuses are 125 miles and a couple of hours apart, and yet the schools rarely meet in any athletic events -- and they never have in football.

The gap between, metaphorically, might as well by 125,000 miles.

But, thanks to the NCAA, it will close this weekend when their baseball programs are on the grand stage for a Super Regional, a best-of-three series at Myrtle Beach's BB&T Coastal Field to determine who goes to the College World Series.

The teams last met on the baseball field in 2002, but that was part of the Baseball at the Beach event. The Gamecocks also played Virginia Commonwealth and Georgia Tech in a round-robin format.

But USC and Coastal haven't met regularly since 1995, predating both Ray Tanner and Gary Gilmore's lengthy, successful tenures at the schools.

Asked about it Tuesday, Tanner got a little gruff on the issue.

"I'm not going to discuss scheduling," Tanner said. "I'm going to discuss a super regional."

What gives?

Multiple sources, on both sides of the fence, have said the rift began when Coastal asserted its independence as a school in 1993. Prior to that, it had a 30-year co-existence within USC's system of schools.

At that point, with some feathers ruffled, Coastal Carolina was phased out and taken off the Gamecocks' schedules, with very few exceptions. (The schools have played regularly in softball.)

But things could be changing. A couple of months ago, there was some internal movement at USC toward the beginning of scheduling Coastal.

Football is likely one area to soon be explored. Baseball could, as well, although Tanner is careful in making sure not to overcomplicate his non-conference schedule.

Already, things are heating up this week between the schools' fans.

Sensing the Gamecocks could take over its ballpark the same way Clemson did in a 2007 regional, Coastal fans snapped up as many tickets as possible, beginning minutes after the regional-clinching game Monday.

Some fans, according to those in line, bought as many as 90 seats for each game.

As a result, the entire series was sold out by Tuesday morning -- hours before the tickets were to go on sale online.

That made a lot of fans in Columbia very unhappy.

USC, in addition to its pass list, was given 250 tickets for its Gamecock Club members. The stadium seats more than 5,000 and has a capacity of 6,599, including standing-room only tickets.

"Rumor has it that Coastal is buying all the tickets," Gamecocks outfielder Whit Merrifield said. "Hopefully our fans will find a way to get in there. I know if Coastal hadn't bought all the tickets that we'd have the majority of the fans there."

Who better to handicap the series than Charleston coach Monte Lee? The former Gamecocks assistant took Coastal to the absolute brink in this past weekend's regional at BB&T Coastal Field.

The Cougars, perhaps, even did win, if not for a bad call on a bang-bang play at first base in the bottom of the ninth.

But now Lee has already turned into curious observer, with his old team and the one his current one just played squaring off.

Lee used the word 'similar' about 10 times in a breakdown of the teams. Pitching, defense, offense -- he said they're similar in so many ways.

"It's tough to go against the Gamecocks because they've played the schedule they have," Lee said. "It's not going to be a shock to them. I don't think they'll be overmatched or overwhelmed.

"I can't say who I think is the better club, but I'd lean toward South Carolina, maybe, because they've been there."

But then Lee comes back immediately with some reasons why Coastal could win, saying the Chants have no real weaknesses. So it's really a coin flip, to him.

Even though he's now at Charleston, Lee said he recognizes that a regular game between the Gamecocks and Chanticleers would be a positive for people beyond even those schools.

"It'd be great if South Carolina and Coastal got back to playing," Lee said. "It'd be great for the state if they played. They're two of our top teams."

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