Sunday, May 22, 2016

Wrapping up the weekend, May 22

NCAA Division I teams completed the regular season over the weekend, and it was a memorable conclusion for several teams.

In addition, the state of South Carolina was assured of having a team reach the NCAA Division II College World Series when Lander and USC Aiken advanced to Monday's championship game of the College World Series.

* South Carolina cooled off a red-hot Alabama team in Tuscaloosa and came home to Columbia with the East Division championship in the Southeastern Conference.

The Gamecocks went through stretches in the second half of the season when they struggled to deliver with runners in scoring position.

Time after time, USC got the clutch plays it needed against Alabama. Madison Stokes has provided an offensive spark after missing the first half of the season with an injury. John Jones has show signs of bouncing back from a slump that covered most of the SEC schedule.

The starting pitchers struggled at times, but USC's bullpen showed signs of developing more depth. The Gamecocks now boast a two-pronged closer stable in right-hander Tyler Johnson and lefty Josh Reagan. In addition, Reed Scott provided effective middle relief that the Gamecocks have longed for much of the year.

USC is solidly in the conversation for one of the eight national seeds. Ending a six-game losing streak in the SEC Tournament might win over any skeptics on the selection committee.

* Clemson entered the weekend series at Notre Dame uncertain if it would qualify for the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. By sweeping the series, the Tigers not only made the tournament, but finished in sixth place and avoided the single-elimination play-in game to reach pool play.

The Tigers got superb pitching all weekend, compiling a staff earned-run average of 1.24. That compensated from a sub-par offensive result. Clemson hit .219 for the weekend. Take away the 13 hits in Friday's 11-1 romp and Clemson hit just .164 in the bookend games.

Clemson almost certainly wrapped up one of the 16 hosting spots for the NCAA Tournament. Florida State, Louisville and Miami appear to be locks to host and Virginia's second-half charge may have put the Cavaliers in that category, too. Clemson's chief competition for the next possible host spot for the ACC comes from N.C. State.

The Tigers won the head-to-head series with the Wolfpack if that becomes a factor, but N.C. State finished a spot higher in the overall standings and has a better RPI.  Clemson's next step is to out-perform the Wolfpack in this week's ACC Tournament. A championship - and maybe even a runner-up finish - might seal the deal for Clemson.

By the way, freshman right fielder Seth Beer extended his on-base streak to 52 consecutive games. He failed to reach base in only the second of the 54 games he has played this season. He missed two games because of a death in his family.

* If Coastal Carolina was supposed to ease coast to the finish line after wrapping up the Big South Conference regular-season title last week, no one told the players. The Chanticleers hammered Campbell on Thursday, came back from a 5-1 deficit to win in the ninth inning on Friday and set a school single-game record for home runs in a 23-4 seven-inning win to wrap up the regular season.

Coastal hit 10 home runs in the series, with seven coming in the Saturday finale stopped by the league's run rule for series finales. The Chanticleers batted .388 (40-for-103) for the weekend.

The Chanticleers appear to be the discussion for one of the 16 host spots for the NCAA Tournament later this month. At least one national writer wonders if being swept at Georgia Tech a few weeks back will come back to haunt Coastal. That's water under the bridge now, so the best thing Coastal can do to help its chances is to win the Big South Conferences and count on some other host candidates to fall by the wayside.

* Lander is within one win of reaching the NCAA Division II College World Series. The Bearcats have won their first three games of the Southeast Regional and on Monday will have two chances to get the one victory necessary to reach Cary, N.C., later this month.

Columbus State, the top seed, went two-and-out. That;s been a common refrain nationally. Of the eight DII regionals, the No. 1 seed has been eliminated in five of them. One No. 1 has advanced to Cary, while two others have a chance to do so on Monday.

* USC Aiken won two games in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional before falling to Lander on Sunday. The Pacers bounced back to eliminate Tusculum Sunday night to set up a Monday rematch with the Bearcats. USCA must beat Lander twice to advance to Cary.

* College of Charleston avoided the ignominy of not qualifying for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament it is hosting this week by winning two of three against William & Mary

* Furman won two of three at home against Wofford to finish the regular season at 27-28. That's quite an accomplishment considering the Paladins were without three or four regulars for much of the season.

* Presbyterian earned its first-ever berth in the Big South Conference Tournament as it went 2-1 in a home series with Charleston Southern.

* Wofford's prospects for a first-division finish in the Southern Conference were spoiled by losing the first two games of the Furman series, but the Terriers rapped out 16 hits and stole seven bases for a 13-5 win in the finale

* Winthrop had an outside chance of finishing in the top half of the Big South standings, but wound up in a three-way tie for sixth by losing two of three at Gardner-Webb. The Eagles did finish with a 7-4 win, but have lost four of their last six conference games.

* The Citadel completed a miserable season by being swept at East Tennessee State. The Bulldogs had a 6-2 lead wiped out midgame of the Friday game, scored two runs to tie in the top of the ninth and gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth to lose, 10-9.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season 16-40, the most losses in school history and the fewest wins in a season since the 1987 team went 19-31. The last Bulldogs team to win as few as 16 games was in 1973, they went 16-14 when seasons were much shorter than they are now.

Throw in the dismissal of some starters because of disciplinary issues midseason and it hasn't been a fun season on the banks of the Ashley River.

* USC Upstate entered the weekend knowing it wouldn't qualify for the Atlantic Sun  Conference Tournament, but the Spartans didn't mail it in. They won a pair of one-run games against Jacksonville to knock the Dolphins from second to third in the standings.

* Charleston Southern had the slimmest of chances of qualifying for the Big South Tournament and that prospect was gone by Friday. The Buccaneers were to finish on a winning note by winning the season and series finale over Presbyterian.

* Spartanburg Methodist fell short of its bid to return to the NJCAA World Series, with two losses to host Harford sandwiched around win over Region 10 rival Pitt CC.

* USC Beaufort also was denied a bid at its division's World Series, losing two of three in the Savannah bracket of the NAIA playoffs.

* Claflin went two-and-out in the NCAA Division II South Regional in its first-even trip to the NCAA playoffs. The Panthers had won the Southern Intercollegiate Conference's regular-season title.

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