UCLA’s Turn To Face The Brink of Elimination

June 29, 2010
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Preview Of Game 2 CWS Finals: UCLA vs. So. Carolina

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By CB360 Contributor Chase Titleman

In this historical first matchup ever between South Carolina and UCLA, with a win on Tuesday or Wednesday the Gamecocks would become only the third team ever to win six games in a single College World Series.

The other two teams to do it were Oregon State (2006) and Holy Cross (1952).

It marks the first time that both teams are going after their first national title since Oregon State and North Carolina raced for the crown in 2006, but it also marks the fifth time in the history of the CWS  that two teams were chasing their first championship.

The others were Miami & Wichita State (1982), Cal State Fullerton & Arkansas (1979) and Arizona & Eastern Michigan (1976).

South Carolina also looks to become only the third team in CWS history to drop its first game in Omaha and still venture onward to win the national championship. Oregon State (2006) and Fresno State (2008) are the only two teams that have accomplished the feat.

South Carolina is 53-16, with the 53 wins ranking third nationally behind Coastal Carolina (55), a team that the Gamecocks eliminated in the Myrtle Beach Super Regional, and TCU (54), a team that UCLA eliminated in Bracket #1 of the CWS.

South Carolina Is Trying to Win its First Major NCAA Championship Today!

As mentioned in yesterday’s pre-CWS article, UCLA is a different team when (1) it doesn’t score in the first inning and (2) most importantly, when the Bruins give up runs in the 1st inning. If they haven’t erased the deficit by the 6th inning, it is pretty much over for the Bruins as they don’t have a bulkhead of come-from-behind victories in 2010.

This is one of the reasons why I think South Carolina has a key edge this year, because it can win in all types of situations: ahead by a large margin early in the game; behind by a large margin early in the game; or in a see-saw contest where the lead changes hands late in the game and they have to come from behind to win it.

I also mentioned that UCLA is ripe to be beaten when the opponent scores 7 or more, and last night, with South Carolina scoring seven, it didn’t bode well for the Bruins.

The seven runs produced by the Gamecocks was their second-highest output this year in the CWS.  But don’t be too quick to give the title to South Carolina, as they have been in this situation many times before. Just as Clemson – another team that SC has beaten to get to the CWS Final in 2002 & 2010 – has struggled to reach the CWS Final, South Carolina has struggled in the past to win the overall championship.

As a matter of fact, this is the fourth time in South Carolina history that the Gamecocks have been one win away from a national title. The others were 2002 (lost to Texas 12-6), 1977 (lost to Arizona State 2-1) and 1975 (lost to Texas 5-1).

South Carolina, which is 102-56 all-time in NCAA Tournament play (10-1 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament) is 26-2 when scoring in the 1st inning this season and 36-6 when scoring first … numbers that do not bode well for UCLA.

Both teams likely will be starting a lefthander for tonight’s game and all eyes will be on the flags in center field when the teams walk into the ballpark. Over the years at Rosenblatt, due to the nature of the location as the stadium sits up on a high bluff next to the Missouri River, the wind can wreck havoc on the game itself.

Last night was the first night in the 2010 CWS that the wind wasn’t blowing out to either left-center or right-center field.

South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner remarked several times that the wind may have helped starting pitcher Blake Cooper with his curveball and changeup in last night’s ballgame. With the single run allowed in 8.0 innings versus UCLA, it marked the 11th time in 20 starts this season that Cooper has allowed 0-2 runs. His 20 starts this season leads the entire Division I field.

Cooper’s 10 strikeouts last night also tied the CWS Finals record, matching versatile Texas pitcher Chance Ruffin (vs. LSU in 2009) and former Fullerton workhorse Jason Windsor (vs. Texas in ’04). Cooper has a 3-1 record with a 2.18 ERA in five NCAA Tournament starts this season, fanning 38 over 33 innings of work.

In Omaha,Cooper is 1-1 with a 2.41 ERA in three starts, allowing 13 hits over 18.2 innings of work.

Can Jackie Bradley, Jr., lead the Gamecocks to their first championship?

As a pitching staff, South Carolina has a 2.41 ERA in six CWS games with 50 strikeouts and 9 walks while holding the opponent to a .186 batting average. The Gamecocks have held all six opponents in Omaha to 0-4 runs. SC is 30-4 this season when holding the opponent to 0-3 runs, including each of its past four opponents in Omaha.

South Carolina’s two leading hitters will need to continue their hot streaks tonight versus Bruin lefthander Rob Rasmussen, who faced a similar situation in the Los Angeles Super Regional when he defeated Fullerton for the right to journey to Omaha.

South Carolina centefielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who in many media member’s opinions is THE marquee player in this year’s tournament and a likely 1st-rounder next season, extended his hit streak to 22 games with a bunt single in the 1st inning last night. It set the wheels in motion for South Carolina’s jump to a 2-0 lead. Bradley now is 10-for-24 (.417) in Omaha with 9 RBI, which leads all players in the CWS.

Gamecocks cleanup hitter Christian Walker (1B) is hitting .396 (19-for-48) in the NCAAs, as he went 2-for-5 last night with a run scored.

UCLA, on the other hand, ended up with some dubious marks as a result of South Carolina’s domination in Monday’s Game #1 title tilt.

With the loss, the Bruins fell to 9-3 in 2010 NCAA Tournament play and 51-16 overall in 2010. The Bruins are 42-34 all-time in 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Most importantly, UCLA’s one run last night tied a season low matched on five other occasions in 2010. The Bruins have not been shut out in 2010, but Monday’s game marked the second time this season that the Bruins were shut out through the first five innings. Remember the importance of scoring first against the Bruins, holding the lead after the sth inning and scoring 7-plus runs overall … all of which were factors that South Carolina accomplished yesterday in the 7-1 victory.

The 11 hits and 6 runs given up by Gerrit Cole tied career highs for the Bruin ace, and his 2 strikeouts matched his lowest total in 33 career starts.  ole has 153 strikeouts this season, a total that ranks second on UCLA’s single-season list behind teammate Trevor Bauer’s 165. Cole is third nationally in strikeouts, behind Bauer (#1) and The Citadel’s Asher Wojciechowski (155).

UCLA assistant coach Vanderhook will be hoping to help ignite the Bruins' sticks vs South Carolina.

UCLA’s Cody Regis extended his hit streak to 13 games and is swinging a hot-stick to lead the Bruins in Omaha (7-for-20/.350).

All in all, UCLA must avoid falling behind early and would be best served to have the lead going into the final nine outs if they expect to stay alive to fight another day in Omaha.  At least that’s what the Sabermetric numbers indicate. Laugh if you will, but most of the time the numbers don’t lie. That’s why insurance companies pay the bean-counters big time.

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