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Will South Carolina still host NCAAs after series loss to Tennessee? It’s complicated

A month ago, Founders Park fans would’ve been forgiven if visions of the College World Series danced in their heads.

But on Saturday — the final day of the college baseball regular season — South Carolina’s postseason outlook appeared a little less rosy.

No. 13 USC (38-17, 16-13 SEC) dropped the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader to No. 18 Tennessee 12-1, sealing the team’s fourth-straight SEC series loss to end the season. With the SEC Tournament on deck next week, the Gamecocks have played their way from national seed shoo-ins to a hosting question mark.

Will the Gamecocks host an NCAA Tournament regional?

The answer grows more complicated by the day. USC’s metrics remain strong — well within the typical range for regional hosts. As of Saturday afternoon, the Gamecocks sat No. 5 nationally in RPI and No. 5 in strength of schedule. Series wins against Clemson and a sweep of then-No. 3 Florida are boons to USC’s resume as the NCAA selection committee examines the Gamecocks’ entire body of work.

But there are plenty of warts on that resume, too, and several complicating factors. For one, USC has taken a nose dive since the high-water mark of that Florida sweep. The Gamecocks are 4-11 since that series, including an RPI-nuking midweek loss to North Florida. Even more, in a stacked SEC, the teams USC lost to over the last month are in direct competition with the Gamecocks for an NCAA hosting nod.

In the last four weeks, USC lost series to Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. Of those teams, Arkansas and Kentucky appear to be hosting locks — but could Auburn or the Vols also sneak in over the Gamecocks? The committee will only include so many teams from the same conference.

In the most recent field of 64 projections, South Carolina was the No. 11 seed and No. 13 by D1Baseball and Baseball America, respectively, with Auburn and Tennessee as No. 2 seeds. But the Tigers reached their 17th conference win Saturday — historically a hosting-caliber win total in the hyper-competitive SEC — and the Vols also have the head-to-head edge over the Gamecocks. Those are factors the selection committee will need to weigh.

There is still time for USC to help its case. With the series loss, the Gamecocks are locked in as the No. 6 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament and will open play against No. 11 seed Georgia on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. A deep run for USC in the tournament could erase some of the bad taste from a month of losing SEC series.

At one time, USC seemed unbeatable this season, with the team getting off to the best start in program history and rocketing up to No. 3 in national rankings. The Gamecocks have since played their way into ambiguous territory.

Key dates for South Carolina baseball

SEC baseball tournament: May 23-28 in Hoover, Alabama

Regional hosts announced: evening of Sunday, May 28

NCAA selection show: noon Monday, May 29 on ESPN2