Where USC baseball’s SEC, NCAA tournament outlooks stand after Tennessee series

For the first time in almost 30 years, South Carolina lost its final six games of the regular season.

A week after being swept by Georgia at Founders Park, the Gamecocks lost all three in Knoxville to No. 1 Tennessee to finish the regular season with a 33-21 overall record and a 13-17 mark in SEC play. Tennessee won Saturday’s finale 4-1.

It’s just the sixth time since 1997 (Ray Tanner’s first season as coach) that the Gamecocks finished conference play with a sub-.500 record and the third since current coach Mark Kingston took the reigns seven years ago.

With its late-season skid, the Gamecocks’ postseason outlook became much gloomier.

With a few SEC games still yet to wrap up Saturday, the Gamecocks could be anywhere from a 7 seed to a 10 seed in next week’s conference tournament in Hoover, Alabama. The bracket will be finalized Saturday evening. USC will open SEC Tournament play Tuesday.

For a second this season, it seemed the Gamecocks had a real chance at finishing in the top four of the SEC and earning a bye in Hoover. South Carolina had a number of impressive stretches in 2024: sweeping No. 3 Vanderbilt, winning two from No. 4 Kentucky, grabbing series victories from Florida and Missouri.

But the struggles of South Carolina’s pitching staff were ultimately too much to overcome. The questions about the Gamecocks’ arms ahead of the year were proven valid. Preseason ace Eli Jones’ ERA was over 5.00 and he came into the Tennessee series as a reliever. Saturday starter Dylan Eskew had solid moments, but still finished the year with a 4.67 ERA. And the Gamecocks never found a Sunday starter they could trust. And at times, it felt like USC had one to two reliable options out of the bullpen.

It came to a culmination in the last two series, as the Gamecocks suffered two-straight sweeps and played themselves out of hosting an NCAA Regional.

Less than three weeks ago, D1Baseball didn’t just have South Carolina as a regional host, it had the Gamecocks as the No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament — on the brink of being a Top 8 seed and in position to be a Super Regional host.

Then the Gamecocks kept losing.

Even before South Carolina was swept in Knoxville, the latest D1Baseball projection had South Carolina as the No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional. (South Carolina played in the Clemson regional just once: 1980.)

Barring winning the SEC Tournament, South Carolina will not host a regional this season. With an RPI that ranks in the Top 25, it seems likely the Gamecocks will be a No. 2 seed in someone else’s regional. Where they’ll end up is anyone’s guess.

By losing six straight, USC opened itself up to getting sent basically anywhere. Heck, right now, Baseball America has USC as the 3-seed in the Santa Barbara Regional, which would send the Gamecocks 2,500 miles west.

South Carolina will find out its NCAA Tournament fate during the selection show at noon Monday, May 27.

South Carolina under Mark Kingston

  • 2018: 37-26, 17-13 SEC (reached NCAA supers)

  • 2019: 28-28, 8-22 SEC (no NCAAs)

  • 2020: 12-4 / Season canceled

  • 2021: 34-23; 16-14 SEC (reached NCAA regionals)

  • 2022: 27-28, 13-17 SEC (no NCAAs)

  • 2023: 42-21, 16-13 SEC (reached NCAA supers)

  • 2014: 33-21, 13-17 SEC (still in progress)