Rule No. 1 for any giant-killer in sports is to catch the giant off guard. Bucknell might have blown its cover heading into the NCAA regional in Columbia this weekend.
The small school of 3,500 students in Lewisburg, Pa., sent up a couple of flares recently in postseason play with an upset of Kansas in basketball in 2005 and one of Florida State in baseball two years ago.
USC coach Ray Tanner, whose top-seeded team plays the fourth-seeded Bison at 7 tonight in the first round of the regional at Carolina Stadium, took notice of those achievements, along with Bucknell's hitting stats (.313 average) after a Patriot League tournament championship run, and decided to put junior right-hander Sam Dyson on the mound instead of saving him.
The Gamecocks (43-15) have gotten the message.
"Everybody's been saying we're expecting to win, but you've still got to go out there and play. It's not going to be given to you," said sophomore outfielder Jackie Bradley, who leads the team with a .372 average.
On the flip side, Bucknell players see no reason they can't knock off another giant.
"We've definitely faced some quality pitchers in our four years, and this season," said senior outfielder Andrew Brouse, who's hitting .368 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs. "So I don't think we'll be that outmatched, if at all. We're going to come down and play our game."
Bucknell junior first baseman Doug Shribman, who is hitting .364 with a team-high 20 homers and 60 RBIs, likes that the Bison (25-33) finally might be getting people to take notice.
"That year we did sneak up on Florida State. They kind of looked past us a little bit," Shribman said. "Hopefully, this year we're taken a little bit more respectably, and we're hoping to put up a good fight."
Bucknell coach Gene Depew, who's in his 29th season guiding the Bison, realizes his team will have its hands full with a traditional SEC power, which spent much of the season ranked in the top 10 and finished second to Florida in the conference. His scouting report tells him the Gamecocks have few weaknesses, especially with a top pro prospect such as Dyson on the mound.
"They're an extremely well-balanced team, with very, very strong numbers pitching-wise across the board, with a lot of depth in that area," Depew said. "They have solid hitting throughout the lineup. They have great numbers defensively.
"None of those things are surprising to have the kind of record that they've had. We have a lot of respect for them and understand the kind of challenge we're going to have."
Bradley said the Gamecocks, who lost two of three to Florida to end the regular season before going two-and-out in the SEC tournament due to their inability to score runs, must get back to the things they did well all season. And they can't worry about the expectations a No. 1 seed carries.
"I wouldn't say it's any pressure," Bradley said. "A lot of people are always putting pressure -- expect this, expect that -- but you can't take the fun out of the game. You've got to have fun while you're doing it."
Starting pitcher Blake Cooper, who was named a third-team All-American by Baseball America on Thursday, agreed.
"Pitchers have to do what they've got to do, and hitters have to get timely hits. The good thing for us is we're playing at home, and we're a little more relaxed. That will be a big key for us," he said.
"I don't look at it as having pressure. I look at it as having the opportunity to do something good. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend."
The Bison hope to keep their momentum rolling after defeating Army and Holy Cross in a pair of best-of-three series to claim the Patriot League tourney. Tonight, with right-hander Dylan Seeley on the mound, they like their chances of taking down another giant.
"That definitely gives us a ton of confidence," Shribman said. "Getting hot at the right time is really what counts in baseball."