The Gamecocks are just two wins away from returning to the College World Series. Can they do it against the best UConn team in school history?
My my my, the Gamecocks had themselves quite a series in Columbia this weekend. After being handed the toughest regional field of the 16 in terms of opponents' RPI, the South Carolina Gamecocks advanced to the Super Regionals by winning three successive games.
USC kicked off their quest to defend their national championship by facing Georgia Southern on Friday night. Carolina prevailed 2-1 in the face of an heroic effort by GSU starter Andy Moye. Moye pitched a complete game of sorts, going 8 innings while allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 bases on balls. Carolina starter Michael Roth (13-2, 1.10 ERA) had a similar line, going 7 innings and allowing 1 run (unearned) on 2 hits and 2 basses on ball. Both starters struck out four. collected his 16th save of season when he relieved John Taylor and finished out he final 1.2 innings of the game. Taylor and Price were perfect in their effort, allowing no base runners in two innings of combined work. The Gamecock hitters struggled about as much as one would expect against a guy who was carrying a 2.39 ERA and a .229 average against. , Adrian Morales, , and Robert Beary each had one hit a piece, while Thomas and Morales each earned an RBI. Coach Ray Tanner had this to say about his team's knack for winning close games:
"I started the year at 52 or 53 and I just turned 91. It's tough over there. I've got a couple assistant coaches that wear it too. We do a poor job of not handling it better. We hang on every single pitch even in the first inning. That's part of it. We played some good defense at times, we pitch well throughout and we struggle putting runs on the board. We've won a lot of games. We're not a team that can blow you out very often. We have to win some close ones to be effective." (Gamecocks Online)
Thankfully, the USC coaches wouldn't have to sweat it out much during the final two games of the weekend. In game two USC squared off against a Stetson team that swept UGA to begin the season. A pitcher's duel this was not. The Gamecocks out-hit the Hatters 12-10 and took the win 11-5. Robert Beary lead the way for the 'Cocks. Beary was 2-3 at the plate and drove in 4 runs on a grand slam - all while playing behind the plate in sweltering heat. By the end of the 4th inning Carolina had amassed a 10-1 lead and there was no looking back. Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.76 ERA) got the win for Carolina. Tyler Webb, Jose Mata, Bryan Harper, and John Taylor combined to finish the last 2.1 innings. Taylor struggled for the first time in a while, facing 6 batters in just 1 inning of work. He's been effective all year, and it's natural for a guy to have an off day every now and then. The smart money is on seeing an effective Taylor (and seeing him often) in the Super Regionals.
Carlina would have to wait until the 9th inning of game 3 to benefit from an explosion of runs. They took the lead in the 1st inning, regained the lead in the 3rd inning, and never looked back after that. The outcome was still in doubt until the 9th inning when a slew of base hits put USC up 8-2. Matt Price did not concede a run in the bottom half of the frame despite allowing two base runners, and the Gamecocks secured a spot in the sweet sixteen. USC might have blown the game open earlier if not for a freak storm that delayed completion until Monday afternoon. With the bases loaded and Robert Beary about to step in the batter's box, the storm took out the power, a few concessions tents, some aluminum roofing from across the street, and at least on porta-john in the parking lot. When play resumed the following day, Beary fouled out to the catcher on a 1-0 count. John Taylor (5-1, 1.32 ERA) accrued the win after stater Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.07 ERA) was knocked out by the delay. Not that Koumas would have minded going back out. In fact, from the presser quotes it seemed like the hardest part for the team was having to watch everyone else get to play ball while they were stuck inside.
Ray Tanner: "But you've got some innings to play, and you're trying to figure out your rotation, and Forrest Koumas wanted to go back out today. He felt great. We had to get through that, and we had set Webb up to come out of the bullpen and got to get home and you are just tracking. You are tracking the other games, and you're watching Fullerton and Illinois. It's crazy; you can't sleep. But that's part of it when you're in this business."
Robert Beary: "Everyone is really into watching our opponents, whoever it is. All year we have faced competitors in other teams, and we are going to have to go out there and battle like we know how to battle and not try to be anyone else. So far, it has worked out pretty well for us." (Gamecocks Online)
Scott Wingo and Christian Walker collected 3 hits a piece but had no RBIs between them. It seems that the team will still be without a go-to lead off man heading into the Super Regionals. Evan Marzilli is making a strong case for the position, but had an on-base percentage of just .231 this weekend when hitting lead-off. On the other hand, he only struck out once against pretty good pitching, so all is not lost.
By virtue of being a national seed, the Gamecocks will host the winner of the Clemson regional this weekend. Regional dates and times will probably not be announced until late Tuesday or Wednesday due to the fact that the College Station Regional has been delayed. I would expect Carolina to get the Saturday-Sunday-Monday slot since both they and their Clemson Regional opponent played games on Monday. Yours truly is hoping for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday selection since I have tickets, but the NCAA seems to have lost my number when consulting on these matters.
In any case, I'm sure Clemson fans will be out in force this weekend in Columbia. You just know that they have been salivating over a chance to end our campaign to defend the national championship. Heck, even I can recognize a certain amount of poetry in the build-up to the series. The only thing that could be more poetic might be if... well,... no... No! Get outa here! You're kidding me, right? No way! Two straight after needing only one!? 14-1?!?! No, no, I'm not buying this. I'm checking Google.
... click... mmhmm ... Clemson choke, Clemson choke... Basketball 2009, nope... Football 2008, nope... Baseball 2002, close... Baseball 2010, closer... ah, uh huh, yeah ... yeaaaaaah. NO. WAY! - (GASP)
OK, so the rumors are true. Looks like South Carolina will be hosting the Connecticut Huskies this weekend in Columbia. Congratulations to UConn. I know we are all looking forward to exacting a little revenge for the 2009 bowl-that-shall-not-be-named. We'll have a preview up later this week.
As for the rest of the tournament, I hope everyone out there has been paying attention. There have been some pretty good upsets around the country. Mississippi State defeated Georgia Tech and will advance to play Florida in the Super Regional. Dallas Baptist upset TCU and UC Irvine upset UCLA. California defeated Rice in what was the easiest regional for a host by RPI. I hope you are looking forward to a great weekend of baseball. I know I am.