South Carolina Marches To Second College World Series Championship

June 29, 2011
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Gamecocks Repeat As National Champs…

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CWS Championship Game: South Carolina 5-10-0 def. Florida 2-6-1
Final Stats | SC Recap | FL Recap

Head coach Ray Tanner talks with the media Tuesday after his team won a second straight national title.

The South Carolina baseball team beat Florida 5-2 on Tuesday in Omaha to win a second straight national championship at the College World Series. If you want a recap you can click one of the above links, but in the meantime here’s the Cliff’s Notes version on how the Gamecocks marched through Omaha with five wins and no losses over the last 11 days.

Lean-in close and I’ll tell you how:  They’re just that good.

It’s just that simple. Ray Tanner‘s Gamecocks have now won a record 16 consecutive NCAA Tournament games. They haven’t always made it look easy, but they just get the job done every time they hit the field.

If the Gamecocks were an automobile they would be a Ford pick-up. Just pile-in and get from point A to point B. No frills, no spills just get the job done.

South Carolina (55-14) didn’t even bat .300 as a team this year (a lot of teams didn’t, there are new bat standards that dropped run production this year if you hadn’t heard). Their 46 home runs weren’t even close to one a game (Peter Mooney‘s 6th inning home run was South Carolina’s only HR at the College World Series), they don’t steal a lot of bases (41), and their “small ball” percentage (67 sac bunts) isn’t off the charts either.

Gamecocks ace Michael Roth has dominated in Omaha for the last two years.

The two-time champs put three runs on the board in the third inning in Tuesday’s deciding game in dizzyingly unspectacular fashion: Double, sac bunt, walk, sac fly, error, infield single. Just like that it was 3-0, and it might as well have been 9-0 with Michael Roth on the mound for USC.

Ah, Michael Roth. The South Carolina lefty is the epitome of both a very good college baseball player and of why the SEC is just better than every other conference all at once.

Remember last year when Roth made his first two starts of the season in Omaha after exclusively coming out of the bullpen 37 times prior? His only starts were a necessity after South Carolina lost its 2010 College World Series opener to Oklahoma and then fought its way out of the loser’s bracket to reach the CWS Finals.

Roth first faced his school’s biggest rival, Clemson, on the games grandest stage and fired a complete game to stave-off elimination and eventually advance to the finals. He started again in the deciding championship game, which the Gamecocks won 2-1 in 11 innings.

Roth’s numbers in those two starts: 14.0 innings, 9 hits, 2 runs, 3 BB, and 7 Ks. That’s from a guy who was a set-up man all season. That’s why the SEC is just better than any other conference. Arms like Roth’s are pitching the 7th and 8th innings in the SEC when they could be starters in any other conference. Roth now has a 1.17 ERA in 38 1/3 career innings at the CWS.

It wasn’t over for Roth there though. With 2010 ace Blake Cooper gone, Roth didn’t just join the SC weekend rotation this year-he fronted it…and then some. The dude had a 13-3 record and a sick 0.97 ERA entering Tuesday’s game, so surely the junior was an early round draft pick earlier this month, right?

Wrong.

Roth didn’t get selected until the 40th round when Cleveland made him the 938th overall pick in the draft. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Danny Hulzten and Florida’s Karsten Whitson, whom Roth matched-up against in his last two CWS starts, were first round picks this year and last year, respectively.

He’s the Jason Bourne of college baseball (the Matt Damon Bourne, not the one with the guy from The Hurt Locker). He just keeps showing-up and keeps on winning.

And so does South Carolina.

Scott Wingo receives his 2011 CWS Most Outstanding Player trophy.

Just as big a reason for their success (in addition to the steady hand of head coach Ray Tanner) is the Gamecocks’ defense. The closet thing that comes to mind to describe their defensive style is the Amoeba defense Jerry Tarkanian‘s UNLV basketball team used in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

South Carolina just suffocates opponents with defense. Second baseman (and CWS Most Outstanding Player) Scott Wingo ranging left on the grass (when he’s not rapping clutch hits), shortstop Peter Mooney charging in on a chopper, Adrian Morales guarding the hot corner, Christian Walker (broken wrist and all these last two games) scooping it all up, and then there’s Jackie Bradley, Jr. running balls down from centerfield.

That’s maybe the most remarkable thing about how South Carolina is where it stands right now. Bradley, the team’s verified superstar (the #40 overall MLB Draft pick by the Boston Red Sox), hadn’t even played since late April after requiring surgery on a tendon in his wrist, but the Gamecocks got back to Omaha (with five straight NCAA wins) without him.

The Most Outstanding Player Trophy is a replica of the Road To Omaha statue.

Bradley played in all five South Carolina wins in Omaha, but he was just another cog in the machinery-the Armour All on the tires of that big shiny pick-up truck.

In the words of the South Carolina players, they “battle”. It’s a word that came-up over and over in post game press conferences during the CWS. Roth even made fun of it at one point, saying they had worn it out, but that’s what the Gamecocks did. Roth and Tanner both said after Tuesday’s clincher that their team wasn’t the most talented, but their ability to battle is what got them where they are:

Two straight national championships, 16 straight NCAA Tournament wins and 11 straight wins at the College World Series.

In all, 11 Gamecocks were drafted earlier this month. Some may return next year, most will be gone.They’ll ride the buses in the minors once they sign their pro contracts, but odds are most of them will be lucky to get a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues.

Just like this year, South Carolina likely won’t be number one when the preseason polls come out in 2012, but don’t bet against them to make it back to Omaha for a chance at a three-peat.

They’re just that good.

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Jackie Bradley, Jr. fires the ball into the outfield bleachers after making the catch to record the last out of the 2011 CWS.

Michael Roth and teammates hold the national championship trophy.

CWS MOP Scott Wingo

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