Relationship between schools not clear-cut
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — South Carolina’s final obstacle to a fourth consecutive trip to Omaha is, perhaps, the toughest opponent they will face all year – North Carolina.
And of their opponents, the Gamecocks may have their most complex relationship with the Tar Heels.
USC has played 25 different teams in 60 games this season, ranging from their bitter rival Clemson, SEC powers LSU and Vanderbilt, to in-state squads like Wofford and Presbyterian.
Each of them has had 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.
But 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 most successful athletic programs in the conference.
The Tar Heels and Gamecocks have both experienced great success on the diamond. USC has won two national championships, and North Carolina appeared in four consecutive College World Series between 2006 and 2009, reaching the national championship 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 rarely play each other. This weekend marks the first meeting between the two teams since the 2007 Super Regional.
USC and UNC faced off in the 2003 and 2007 super regionals, splitting the two series; USC won it in Columbia 2003, and UNC won in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2007.
The Gamecocks also beat the Tar Heels twice in the 2004 Columbia regional, eventually advancing to the College World Series.
Adding to the drama: Both schools call themselves “Carolina.”
The Gamecocks and Tar Heels both have baseball uniforms that feature school nicknames, interlocking school initials and script “Carolina” across the chest.
While the matchup should be entertaining, the storylines of the people on the field are equally compelling.
Gamecock head coach Chad Holbrook played for the Tar Heels in the early 90’s and 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 Chapel Hill native.
And former baseball coach Ray Tanner, USC’s athletic director, played and coached at UNC rival N.C. State before coming to Columbia.
Although neither school considers the other 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 Carolinas always makes for a great baseball series,” Konduros said. “I would love to see the Gamecocks take down the No. 1 national seed.”
Brett Holladay can sympathize with the Holbrook, Arendas and Schrock families, who are split between the schools.
The Charlotte native earned two degrees from USC before attending law school at UNC, where he graduated last month. Despite his ties to 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 while he believes the Gamecocks will win the series, he is nervous about the matchup.
“UNC has played better ball this year,” Holladay said.
He said he’s also nervous about what would happen if USC loses.
“I bragged about Gamecock baseball to my UNC friends all three years I was there,” he said.