USC's Ray Tanner looking forward to defending title

By Rick Henry - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Baseball season is just around the corner, and it's been a busy off season for University of South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner. He's had speaking engagements and says he's autographed just about everything imaginable related to Gamecock baseball, but that's what happens when you win a national championship.

Now the coach is talking about the start of a new season.  

It's two days before Ray Tanner and the Gamecocks begin defense of their national championship. They're the reigning number one team, but that's not getting them any respect in their own conference, with coaches picking USC to finish third in the sec east.

"It's a great league," said Tanner. "You've got the Gators and Commodores with all those pitchers returning, and they deserve to be ranked where they are. But you know, you don't go by projections. You go by play on the field, and hopefully we'll do a good job."

Not only is Tanner driven by the will to win, but also the fear of failure. "I Worry all the time," he said. "I have the fear of not being the team you want to be or not being the team you want to be on a particular day. That keeps me going a little bit."

The team is closing in on 5,000 season ticket sales, which says a lot about fans' level of excitement for USC baseball. "It's a huge statement, there's no question about that," said Tanner. "I'm grateful to be in that position. You can have great players and you can have outstanding coaches, but if you don't have people in the stands and fans with passion and enthusiasm that embrace the program, you're not as good as you would like to be."

Still, Tanner is looking forward to opening night on Thursday. "I won't get as much sleep as I normally do, but it's exciting," said Tanner. "It'll be fun. It'll be exciting from my standpoint. I hope it's a great day of baseball."

The 56-game regular season starts Friday across the SEC, and as usual, its teams are among the nation's most prominent. Six out of the league's 12 programs are nationally ranked in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll, including four in the top 15.

Florida was picked to win the league in a preseason poll of the league's coaches. The Gators return eight position players and 11 pitchers from last year's SEC champion, which finished with a 47-17 overall record and 22-8 mark in the SEC.

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