The Daily Gamecock

Border Battle Brings Intrigue

South Carolina’s final obstacle to a fourth consecutive trip to Omaha is, perhaps, the toughest opponent they will face all year.

The North Carolina Tar Heels may also be the foe that has the most complex relationship with the Gamecocks.

USC has played 25 different teams in 60 games this season, ranging from bitter rival Clemson, to SEC powers like LSU and Vanderbilt, to in-state squads like Wofford and Presbyterian. Each of the aforementioned teams has a clear-cut role with the Gamecocks. The USC-Clemson rivalry needs no explanation, South Carolina has tangled with its conference foes since 1992 and the Gamecocks have lorded over many smaller Palmetto State schools in athletics for years. However, South Carolina’s matchup with North Carolina comes with a more interesting background than most.

The Gamecocks and Tar Heels were both charter members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was founded in 1953. South Carolina left the ACC in 1971 to become an independent, while UNC remained in the league and became one of the more successful athletic programs in the conference. The Tar Heels and Gamecocks have both experienced great success on the diamond, as USC has won two national championships and North Carolina appeared in four consecutive College World Series’ from 2006 to 2009, losing in the national championship series to Oregon State in 2006 and 2007. The two schools combined have made 10 trips to Omaha in the past 10 years.

Despite their postseason successes over the past decade and proximity, the two schools have rarely played one another. USC and UNC faced off in the 2003 and 2007 Super Regionals, with the Gamecocks winning the 2003 matchup in Columbia and North Carolina taking the 2007 series in Chapel Hill. The Gamecocks also beat UNC twice in the Columbia Regional of 2004, eventually advancing to the College World Series. This weekend marks the first meeting between the two teams since the 2007 Super Regional.

Adding to the drama is the fact that both schools go by “Carolina.” The Gamecocks and Tar Heels both have baseball uniforms that feature school nicknames, interlocking school initials and script “Carolina” across the chest; however, USC does not wear a uniform that says “South Carolina” and UNC’s jerseys do not spell out “North Carolina.”

While the matchup of two storied programs is sure to be entertaing, the storylines involving the individuals on the field this weekend are equally compelling. Gamecock head coach Chad Holbrook played for the Tar Heels from 1990-93, then spent 15 seasons on North Carolina’s coaching staff. USC freshman infielder D.C. Arendas is the son of UNC director of baseball operations Dave Arendas, who also happens to be Holbrook’s brother-in-law. USC’s freshman second baseman, Max Schrock, was rated as the third-best high school prospect in the state of North Carolina and is a native of Chapel Hill. Additionally, USC athletic director and former baseball coach Ray Tanner played and coached at UNC rival N.C. State before becoming the head coach of the Gamecocks.

Although neither school considers the other as its primary rival, the atmosphere surrounding the weekend should be electric. Plenty of Gamecock fans are expected to make the trip to Boshamer Stadium for the series. Annie Konduros, a junior at USC who traveled to Chapel Hill with her family for the weekend, watched her cousin, Aaron Rawl, go to Omaha three times as a pitcher for the Gamecocks and has been a South Carolina fan since childhood. She expects the matchup between the Gamecocks and top-seeded Tar Heels to live up to the hype.

“The rivalry between the Carolina’s always makes for a great baseball series,” Konduros said. “I would love to see the Gamecocks take down the number one national seed.”

Brett Holladay can sympathize with the Holbrooks, Arendas’s and Schrocks. The Charlotte native earned degrees in Criminal Justice and Political Science from USC before attending law school at UNC, where he graduated last month. Despite having spent time at both universities, Holladay says that there is no question where his loyalties lie this weekend.

“The real Carolina has always been USC in my family,” he said. “I was pretty much born a Gamecock and know for sure I will die one.”

Konduros believes that South Carolina has the momentum to upset the Tar Heels.

“We’ve just come off a strong weekend of smart baseball. We seem to peak at the perfect moments,” she said. “I think our chances are pretty good.”

Holladay admits that, although he believes the Gamecocks will win the series, he is nervous about the matchup.

“UNC has played better ball this year,” Holladay said.

He says that his nerves are also due to thoughts of what will happen if USC loses.

“I bragged about Gamecock baseball to my UNC friends all three years I was there.”


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