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WOOWARD: Regional was won Saturday night

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Fans watch the NCAA regional action between South Carolina and East Carolina at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Saturday night. South Carolina won 4-2 to gain control of the regional.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 4, 2018

Call it Separation Saturday.

South Carolina officially won the NCAA baseball Greenville Regional on Monday when it defeated No. 4 seed UNC Wilmington 8-4 at Clark-LeClair Stadium, but the second-seeded Gamecocks really won the regional when they edged the host Pirates, 4-2, on Saturday night.

Regardless of whether it was UNCW or East Carolina facing the Gamecocks on Monday, the odds are against teams, even No. 1 seeds, that fall into the losers’ bracket during Day 1 or Day 2 at a double-elimination regional to be able to rally and take the title. It takes a unique sequence of games for that to happen in this era of college baseball, which is super dependent on quality pitching depth and winning low-scoring games.

Regionals often play out the way they did at Clark-LeClair Stadium. South Carolina was a little better than the Pirates in their semifinal game Saturday — led by starting pitcher Cody Morris’ masterful performance in which he pitched into the eighth inning thanks to a filthy changeup and seven strikeouts — and at that point, it made it unrealistic for the Gamecocks to lose twice.

ECU lost its Saturday game to South Carolina during the 2009 regional at Clark-LeClair and was able to still prevail, including beating the Gamecocks twice for the championship. But players used different bats then and it was much more of an offensive game and easier to produce slugfests, evident by the Pirates winning those final three regional games by scores of 16-9, 8-6 and 10-9.

Eight of the 16 NCAA No. 1 seeds this year did not win their regional. N.C. State and Florida State actually went 0-2, and four of the other six fell into the losers’ bracket Saturday during Day 2 action. Georgia and Mississippi were the outliers in starting 2-0 as host teams, but both lost twice Monday.

Clemson has been a regional host three straight years and not advanced each time. It lost its second game at the regional each year.

Weather dictated the weekend schedule in Greenville, which made it even more difficult on the Pirates and Seahawks after SC started 2-0. South Carolina ended up getting the day off Sunday as ECU and UNCW waited out a five-hour rain delay, and then the Seahawks outlasted the Pirates with a 9-7 upset win late at night.

East Carolina had a great season — winning 44 games for the first time since 2009, hosting a regional and winning the American Athletic Conference tournament for the second time in four years — and the Greenville Regional started great for the Pirates when they beat UNCW 16-7 on Friday night.

South Carolina almost lost Friday, needing a late comeback to top Ohio State, and that set up the most important matchup of the regional with No. 1 ECU against No. 2 South Carolina. The stadium was packed and East Carolina fans were eager for a big breakthrough.

But the Gamecocks were better Saturday night and that put them into position to celebrate in Greenville on Monday and ride into the super regional round of the NCAA tournament.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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