North Carolina's been waiting for this scenario for five years.
As No. 6 South Carolina begins its Super Regional today, the Gamecocks already know their mission -- beating the No. 2 Tar Heels twice on their home field to get to the College World Series -- is extremely tough. Throw in the past history of the series and it increases tenfold.
From 2002-04, North Carolina played USC in the NCAA tournament each year. The Tar Heels journeyed to Columbia each time and played seven games with the Gamecocks.
They lost six, four in the NCAA Regionals and two in the Super Regionals. The Gamecocks went on to Omaha, Neb., each year and the Heels were left stewing.
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Today the shoe switches to the other foot. North Carolina went to the CWS last year and finished second, and despite losing most of a star-studded pitching staff, the Heels (51-12) reloaded and hovered around the top five all season. USC (45-18) is talented and no stranger to the Super Regionals, but the advantage this time seems to be in the other dugout.
"We'd love to have it here at the Sarge but things didn't work out," said lefty Arik Hempy, expected to throw Saturday's game. "It's going to be tougher since we're there but I think we'll be able to deal with that pretty well."
USC went to Georgia last year for the Super Regionals and was one win from Omaha with a near-legendary performance, bashing eight homers (including five consecutive) in a Game 1 rout. But the Gamecocks lost the next two and watched as the Bulldogs celebrated.
Playing in Chapel Hill could give the Gamecocks another long-ball threat.. USC leads the country in home runs and has the benefit of playing in a park similar to its beloved Sarge Frye Field, where the wind and the short fences give the advantage to the batter.
But the Heels' pitching, although it lost a lot of talent, returned a good bit of the crew that led it to Omaha last year. Robert Woodard, expected to start tonight, is 22-0 at Boshamer Stadium since 2004 and Andrew Carignan led the ACC with 14 saves in 15 opportunities.
"I'm sure they are gunning for us, but we're gunning for them, too," said Harris Honeycutt, who should oppose Woodard on the hill tonight. "There's a lot to play for here so it should be a really exciting weekend."
Coach Ray Tanner recognized the rivalry between the two teams but didn't know if the revenge scenario would be accurate. As he pointed out, UNC's one of the best teams in the country, with or without any kind of motivational factor.
"I think our guys respect them a lot ... we've known their coaches for a long time," Tanner said. "It's the best Super Regional going this weekend as far as RPIs are concerned."
At Boshamer Stadium
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Today: South Carolina (45-18) vs. North Carolina (51-12), 7 p.m.
Saturday: South Carolina vs. North Carolina, 7 p.m.
Sunday: South Carolina vs. North Carolina, 7 p.m., if necessary
At Polk-DeMent Stadium
Today: Clemson (41-21) vs. Mississippi State (36-20), Noon
Saturday: Clemson vs. Mississippi State, Noon
Sunday: Clemson vs. Mississippi State, 1 p.m., if necessary