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NCAA seeding likely on line for Gamecocks

What does South Carolina need to do at this week's SEC baseball tournament to secure a national seed in the NCAA tournament? Gamecocks coach Ray Tannersays your opinion is as accurate as his.

"I don't spend any time speculating about that," Tanner said. "I know we've won 43 games and we're in position to host the regional. Are we a national seed? I don't know. I'm not sure.

"Some people say, 'Oh, I think you are.' I don't get a chance to provide any input in that decision."

The Gamecocks (43-13) are close, for sure, but there are no guarantees until Monday's announcement. In the meantime, winning would help.

Third-seeded South Carolina begins SEC tournament today (approximately 2 p.m.) in Hoover, Ala., against No. 6 seed Mississippi (36-20) and SEC pitcher of the year, left-hander Drew Pomeranz (7-2, 2.39 ERA).

The Gamecocks will send sophomore left-hander Nolan Belcher (3-0, 2.03 ERA in 262/3innings) to the mound.

Today's winner will face the Auburn-Alabama winner. A potential matchup with the Tigers (39-17) would be significant, considering they're also contending for a national seed.

A seed in the NCAA tournament would lock up home-field advantage for the regional and super regional rounds.

The Gamecocks haven't played a home super regional since 2004 - by no coincidence, their most recent trip to the College World Series.

Most national analysts have South Carolina just ahead of teams such as Cal State-Fullerton, Georgia Tech and Auburn. Any slipups, and USC might wind up on the outside of that bubble.

Auburn dropped two of three at home to the Gamecocks early in the regular season, but the Tigers have won five consecutive series entering the postseason including a sweep of Ole Miss last week.

A late-season series loss at Kentucky is really hurting the Gamecocks right now. It puts more emphasis on this week's SEC tournament.

"We definitely need to win a couple of games," Gamecocks outfielder Whit Merrifield said. "We're going down there to try to win the tournament and let things fall in place after that."

As if the national seed weren't enough to motivate the Gamecocks this week, they received a roundabout pep talk Monday.

"I reminded our guys if we don't go deep in the tournament, we'll come home and do some two-a-days, to try and be ready for a regional," Tanner said. "You can extend your stay, or come home and practice. Is there anybody unsure of what they want to do?"

Merrifield, for one, said he'd rather stay in Alabama.

"We finished a game back of the SEC regular-season champions (Florida)," Merrifield said. "It's not like it's exactly been a down year. We're looking forward to the tournament and proving that we are one of the best teams in the country and the conference."

Note

FASTER SEC PLAY: The accelerated version of the SEC baseball tournament is set to begin today in Hoover, Ala. The double-elimination tournament will feature new rules designed to speed up play.

Pitchers will have 20 seconds to get off a pitch when nobody's on base, and teams must take the field within 108 seconds between half-innings. The penalty is an automatic ball for the hitter.

Associated Press

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