The 2011 College World Series Championship Series features two familiar foes from the Southeastern Conference, the South Carolina Gamecocks (53-14, 22-8) and the Florida Gators (53-17, 22-8). South Carolina lays claim to the regular season SEC title, while the Gators reigned supreme in Hoover, AL at the SEC Tournament. In March, the two teams met in Gainesville and the Gamecocks took two of three from Florida, winning 9-2, losing 2-1, and winning 4-3. Can they do it again? The Championship Series will settle which team is truly the best in 2011.
Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan referred to this series in yesterday's press conference as "swag versus swag." He's right. Both teams bring a level of confidence that comes from excelling in the best baseball conference in America. The Gamecocks are coming off of a national championship, and Florida believes they're deserving of one. Neither team is yet to lose a game in Omaha, winning three straight en route to the Championship Series. The attention of college baseball fans across the country turns to South Carolina and Florida tonight as they begin the best of three series at 8:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.
The Gators will start ace RHP Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.24 ERA) against South Carolina's freshman RHP Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.07 ERA) in Game 1. Koumas started in Carolina's loss to Florida earlier this year but threw very well, going six innings with no earned runs. The Gamecocks' closer, RHP Matt Price (7-3, 1.91 ERA, 18 Saves) actually took the loss in that game. It's "unlikely" that Price will be available tonight due to the number of pitches he threw against Virginia on Friday, according to South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner. O'Sullivan believes that freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43 ERA) will start tomorrow. Tanner has not selected a starter for Game 2, but it's likely to be All-American LHP Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA). Neither coach has decided on a potential Game 3 starter, as both are certainly hoping to be walking away with a trophy after the second ballgame.
As a team, Florida is batting .309 with 68 HRs and 452 runs scored. Comparatively, South Carolina is batting .295 with 45 HRs and 412 runs scored. The Gators are a powerful hitting ballclub with seven players having no less than 5 HRs, and two guys, C Mike Zunino (18 HR) and 1B Preston Tucker (15 HR), with 15 or more long balls. South Carolina only has three players with 5 or more, and none that has sent more than 10 out of the park. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the one guy with 10 HR is 1B Christian Walker. Walker tweaked his wrist late in the game against the Cavaliers and is doubtful tonight against Florida. Possible replacements at first are Robert Beary and, perhaps surprisingly, Michael Roth. Last year's College World Series Most Outstanding Player, CF Jackie Bradley, Jr., will be counted on heavily at the plate in Walker's likely absence. Bradley, Jr. is, however, in what is only the fourth game action he's seen since missing 27 games with an injury of his own. Regardless of the circumstances, the Gamecocks have found ways to win all season long with players stepping up at the right times. As South Carolina Associate Head Coach Chad Holbrook said yesterday, "adversity is our 'normal.'" Let the battle begin.
All CWS Championship Series games will be televised by ESPN. Game 1 is tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST and Game 2 is tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. EST. If necessary, Game 3 will begin Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. EST.