For the first time since 2004, the South Carolina Gamecocks are headed to hallowed Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha for the College World Series.
Down 9-7 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth in Game Two of their Super Regional in Myrtle Beach against Coastal Carolina, freshman Christian Walker lifted a pitch over the left field fence for Earl Weaver's favorite play, the three run homer. SC held on to advance to the CWS, the fourth team to do so.
Coming into the final Series at Rosenblatt, the Gamecocks are not favored to win the title, but the team—as any group that has reached this stage does—is sold upon the idea that they have what it takes to win.
South Carolina is poised for a run deep into the College World Series, and here are ten reasons why the Gamecocks will take home a title.
Blake Cooper (pictured) is the ace of the Gamecocks pitching staff that led the SEC in ERA (3.61) and opponent's average (.230). Cooper led the staff with 12 wins, 118.1 IP, 105 K, and was best among starters with a 2.81 ERA.
Despite the success of the pitchers, when you look deeper, the staff is not a;; that deep. Only two players, Cooper and Sam Dyson, started at least ten games. Senior Jay Brown started nine, Tyler Webb started seven, Nolan Becher and Colby Holmes started six each.
The bullpen is stocked up for the CWS, with twelve regular pitchers available. Their rotation is suited perfectly for a short series; start both Cooper and Dyson and either recycle anything the star Cooper has left or start Brown, Webb, or Becher. If a starter gives the team six quality innings, the bullpen is filled with options to close out the game.
The fireworks best be ready to explode early on whenever the Gamecocks are playing.They like to score early and often.
ln the first three innings, the Gamecocks outscored their opponents 182-102 this season. This translates to just under one run per inning, which gives SC a head start in each game.
If a pitcher makes a mistake early in the game at any point in the count, Gamecock batters will hack away and watch the spheroid sail deep into the Omaha night.
We all know and acknowledge the dominance of the SEC in college football. But more quietly, the baseball being played amongst the members of the 12-team conference is tops in the nation.
Five teams from the SEC made the Super Regionals—the most of any conference. Seven teams were in the last releasing of the Top 25 poll, which included South Carolina. Seven of the last 20 National Champions came out of the conference, including LSU in 2009.
Each and every game is a challenge in the SEC. South Carolina has been plyaing CWS-caliber teams all season long, thus the actual event is nothing they haven't seen. Preparation and experience are keys to postseason success, and the Gamecocks have put in enough of this during the conference season in order to be victorious.
Often am I hesitant to mention single players, especially collegiate athletes, as reasons why a team can be successful, but Jackie Bradley Jr. is an exception.
Only a sophomore, the sweet-swinging lefty hit .371 with 11 homers and 51 RBI in 60 games. He slugged .587 and had an astounding .477 OBP, primarily as the three-hole hitter for the Gamecocks. He had 25 multi-hit games, another team-leading stat, and enters the CWS on a 16-game hitting streak.
With Bradley hot in the middle of the lineup, the offense is even more explosive and threating to opponents in the World Series.
At such a crucial point in the season, one with everything laid on the line, a team needs experienced players to lead. Sometimes a heap of talented underclassmen just isn't good enough (just ask Kentucky men's basketball). South Carolina baseball is complete with just the right amount of experienced players and young talent.
Seven of the eleven regular position players are juniors and seniors. Maybe more importantly, both Dyson and Cooper are upperclassmen. This season, the team returned 20 letterwinners.
Skipping for the Gamecocks in his 14th season with South Carolina is Ray Tanner.
This will be his fourth College World Series with the team, including three consecutive appearances from 2002-2004. He has led the Gamecocks to 13 consecutive +.600 seasons, 12 NCAA regionals, and eight Super Regionals. Tanner provides the team with much needed experience at the helm of the roster. He will be able to keep the players' emotions under control and prepare them for success. Appearing in his fourth World Series, Tanner does not want to fall short after three unsuccessful trips to Omaha.
That's right, Fresno State's immaculate run to the '08 title is a reason South Carolina will win this season.
Looking at the numbers, the teams are nearly identical. Let's take a look:
-Fresno St. hit .300. USC hit .302
-FSU had a .393 OBP. USC had a .395 mark.
-FSU had 19 saves. USC had 13.
-Both teams hit 124 doubles.
-Neither team came into the CWS expected to win the tournament
The Gamecocks even have an ERA a whole run lower and scored many more runs than the Bulldogs did. They also boasted a better record during the season.
Fresno shocked all of college baseball by getting hot at the right time. South Carolina is "spurring up" right about now as well—so watch out.
"Put 'em down and keep 'em there," goes the old idea behind winning. USC done just that all season long.
In the team's 48 wins this season, the average margin of victory was 4.9. Most of the time, the opponent got down early in the game and never clawed their way back. Winning big in the CWS can prove vital in keeping pitchers fresh and team morale up, as well as demoralizing the other team and its fans.
This will play to South Carolina's favor when their tournament kicks off on Saturday June 19.
South Carolina loves the home run ball. They finished just seventh in the SEC in hits and batting average, but were third in home runs, with 90. Whit Merrifield led the team with 12, followed by Bradley Jr. with 11.
Some say that living by the long ball can be a team's demise, but I respond by saying that is only true when a team hits a cold streak or relies on one power hitter.
The Gamecocks do not appear to be slowing down, nor do they depend on one player to do the heavy lifting. They have homered in six of seven and 12 of 14 games. It was a dinger by Walker that catapulted the team past Coastal Carolina on Sunday. Nine players have at least nine home runs, which shows that any player can go yard anytime they step into the box.
Entering the series, the Gamecocks appeared to be outmatched in multiple areas. Coastal Carolina had them beat...
-In average by 0.24
-By 141 runs
-18 more HR
-34 more combined doubles and triples
-In slugging by 0.60
-39 more BB
-115 more SB
-55-8 record vs. 46-15
Despite all of this, the Gamecocks still swept Coastal Carolina in two games. They showed they can beat teams that "appear" to be better on paper, which will come up in their run to the College World Series title.