With college football season nearly upon us it's time to put the finishing touches on Garnet and Black Attack's baseball coverage for 2010. Now, more than two months later, we try to gain some perspective on what Ray Tanner and company achieved.
For the majority of Gamecock fans I think it's safe to say that this year's National Championship has meant the most of any athletic accomplishment in Gamecock history. More than 1984, more than George Rogers' Heisman, and more than beating Clemson in football this year (after all, we got to beat them twice in the College World Series).
Along the way to Omaha this team accomplished quite a few milestones that are impressive in their own right. Looking at it now, perhaps that was an indicator that 2010 would be a special year for the Gamecocks.
For instance, early on this season Tanner secured his 600th win in a Gamecocks uniform. Not long thereafter, the team banded together against a scrappy Vanderbilt team to give their skipper his 1,000th career win as a head coach.
Among its series wins in 2010 the Gamecocks can count eleven sweeps, three of which were against SEC competition. One was against UCLA for the national championship, another against Coastal Carolina for a ticket to Omaha, and another came against an underrated Citadel squad. The Gamecocks, themselves, were never swept.
USC also managed to defeat every one of it's mid-week opponents, going a perfect 14-0. That mark helped the 'Cocks reach another milestone, winning at least 40 games for the 11th consecutive year. Also for the 11th consecutive year the Gamecocks made it to the NCAA Regionals.
Oh yeah, and the two victories over Clemson in the CWS gave us the season series against the Tigers, too.
And while the 2010 iteration of the Gamecocks may have been the ultimate example of the team concept, it's also worth remembering the individuals who gave us our first baseball National Championship. Who among us will forget the image of Whit Merrifield running to first base with arms aloft after singling Scott Wingo home? Who could forget the excitement when, down to our last strike, Jackie Bradley, Jr. kept hope alive with a hit of his own. And then there were the consistent contributions of senior catchers Kyle Enders and Brady Thomas. Their leadership behind the plate helped Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson turn in three amazing games and Michael Roth give what I still believe is the greatest pitching performance in the history of the CWS. Roth's 9 innings of work against Clemson was probably the longest outing of his career, but watching the sophomore give up just three hits and one walk you never would have known it. All throughout Matt Price proved to be the big-time closer that you need in a playoff situation. Veterans Bobby Haney and Scott Wingo did their part, too, and kept the defense strong up the middle of the field.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the freshmen who were a big part of our NCAA success. Evan Marzilli came on late in the season to give the 'Cocks a boost at the top of the order. Marzilli ended the season with a .386 average and 30 runs scored. Christian Walker was a mainstay at first base during the tournament and hit .327 with 51 RBI. You'll also remember that he hit a walk-off bomb to send us to Omaha.
And then there were the players who selflessly put the good of the team above there own personal desires in order to help us achieve greatness. Nick Ebert and Jeffery Jones each had just one at-bat in Omaha. Parker Bangs didn't even make a single appearance in the CWS. Yet, each of these players made major contributions to the program this year and in years past.
That this was a special season for the Gamecock faithful is an understatement. Beyond the National Championship and the other accomplishments during the season, this team validated my faith in the notion of being a fan. The National Championship banner will be a point of pride for many years to come, but what I took from this season is that there is still room in college athletics for an honest man to coach good kids and achieve their ultimate goal - even at the University of South Carolina.