State of South Carolina on successful run in college sports
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) The Palmetto State is on a major run in college sports.
The winning started with Coastal Carolina capturing the College World Series in June. Then Clemson upset Alabama in January to win the national football title. Now, the South Carolina men's and women's basketball teams are in the Final Four this weekend looking to bring home even more championship hardware for the state.
''The odds of this happening anywhere but especially here,'' Coastal Carolina athletic director Matt Hogue said, ''are really high.''
It's an impressive achievement for a state of slightly more than 4.6 million people without a pro sports team within its borders.
''You can't do it without talent,'' Gamecocks women's basketball coach Dawn Staley said, ''you can't do it without belief.''
The title runs has caught the attention of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
''It just shows the character, the strength, the optimism, the determination of our young people and the coaches and the schools involved that support it,'' Gov. Henry McMaster said. ''It's just another sign of the greatness of South Carolina.''
Hogue recalls how he and the Chants got support and congratulations from fan bases of all stripes.
''We don't have pro sports to follow inside the state, so people here love to pull for the colleges,'' the Coastal Carolina AD said.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney said his players hanging around the football offices were watching Coastal Carolina's clinching game ''and they were jumping up and down when they got the final out.''
Despite the state pride, some lines are difficult to cross.
At a recent Statehouse ceremony for Clemson's football title where highway signs were unveiled to honor the achievement, the steps were crowded with Tiger backers - and few from the other side.
Former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz used to quip that some Gamecock fans told him they would go to the circus ''just to boo the tiger.''
Swinney has said he's gotten plenty of begrudging congratulations from the other side, usually with the addendum that South Carolina is out to chase them down.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin is proud to be part of the success. He said he didn't know much about Palmetto State pride before he arrived and immersed himself with the residents, no matter who they supported.
''What's happened here might be a surprise to some,'' Martin said. ''It's not a surprise to me. After five years here, I've learned the values and the passion of the people of South Carolina.''
The winning started last summer when Coastal, located in Conway about 10 miles West of the Grand Strand vacation area of Myrtle Beach, finally reached Omaha, Nebraska and the CWS after years as one of the leading mid-major baseball programs.
The Chanticleers topped Arizona in the best-of-three finals to bring home the state's first national team title since South Carolina won two straight CWS crowns in 2010 and 2011.
Clemson kept the positive title vibes going last fall. The Tigers were heavy underdogs against undefeated and defending champ Alabama. But Clemson captured its second-ever national championship with a 35-31 win on a last-second TD pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson to receiver Hunter Renfrow.
The South Carolina women, ranked in the top 10 all season long, were a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Final Four for the second time in three seasons with a 71-64 win over Florida State this past Monday night. The Gamecocks will face Stanford on Friday for a spot in the championship final.
The Gamecock men completed their bracket-busting run to a first Final Four with a 77-70 win over Florida at Madison Square Garden to take the East Regional on Sunday . South Carolina wasn't fully sure it would make the tournament - it hadn't gone since 2004 - and had not won an NCAA game since 1973.
They take on top seed Gonzaga on Saturday.
Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox contributed to this report from Columbia, South Carolina.