This is the fifth World Series appearance for the Gamecocks in a decade, and Ray Tanner’s bunch is geared to repeat in Omaha.
Carolina’s chances of repeating took a serious blow back in April when star center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went down with a wrist injury and hasn’t played since. But the team has seemingly glided right over that speed bump, as the Gamecocks have gone 20-6 without him in the lineup.
South Carolina has plenty of confidence heading into its opener with Texas A&M. No. 4 seed Carolina and No. 1 seed Virginia are in the same bracket, along with the two unseeded teams, Cal and Texas A&M.
1. Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion
The Gamecocks return to Omaha as the reigning kings of the hill, and they will bring plenty of swagger to TD Ameritrade Park this year. Remember on their way to the title last year, they lost their opener to Oklahoma. So Carolina fought back from the loser's bracket to reach the championship round, where it took both games from UCLA, the clincher in 11 innings.
The team stared down elimination in its rematch with the Sooners, but down 2-1 in the 12th inning, Jackie Bradley Jr. singled home the tying run and later scored the winner.
2. Michael Roth
The junior left-hander didn’t win the SEC Pitcher of the Year (that went to Vandy’s Grayson Garvin) but he had an incredible season, going 13-3 with a 1.02 ERA in 123 innings. He is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award. He joined the rotation this spring after two years in the bullpen.
Though he did become a starter in the 2010 CWS, tossing a complete game against Clemson, then limiting UCLA to one run in five frames in that extra-inning clincher.
3. Christian Walker
The Carolina first baseman improved his output from a Freshman All-American season a year ago, by finishing with a .359 average, 10 homers and 60 RBI. He ranked third in the SEC in RBI, fourth in runs scored, fifth in homers and eighth in average.
He moved into the No. 3 hole in the lineup after Bradley’s injury, and he didn’t miss a beat.
4. Could Jackie Return?
Jackie Bradley Jr. was Carolina’s starting center fielder and No. 3 hitter until he went down on April 23 with a wrist injury. He’s been trying to work his way back, and even if he doesn’t return, his teammates will have plenty of incentive to send the junior off with back-to-back titles.
He was the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s World Series, batting .345 with two homers and a team-high nine RBI. This month, he was a first-round pick (supplemental, No. 40) by the Boston Red Sox, so this will likely be his amateur swan song.
Coach Ray Tanner placed him on the 27-man roster and he started taking batting practice when the team arrived in Omaha. His replacement in center, Evan Marzilli, tweaked his hamstring, so Tanner is giving himself the option of bringing Bradley back, and he certainly would present a morale boost to the team.
5. Balanced Attack
The USC lineup includes seven players with at least 30 RBI each, led by Walker’s 60. And it would have been eight players had Bradley remained healthy. He finished with 26 RBI in 37 games.
Carolina finished second in the SEC in on-base percentage (.389) to Vanderbilt, as both second baseman Scott Wingo (.466 OBP) and first baseman Christian Walker (.442 OBP) have more walks than strikeouts. The USC pitching staff also earned its stripes, finishing No. 2 in the SEC in with a 2.60 ERA.
6. Other Players Picked Up for Loss of Bradley
Sophomore Evan Marzilli started the season in left field, then moved to right after a hamstring injury to Adam Matthews, but found a permanent home in center after Bradley’s injury. He’s proceeded to light it up late, tying a school record with nine straight hits over three games in late May, then he earned NCAA Regional All-Tournament honors.
Senior catcher Brady Thomas moved into the cleanup spot and finished second on the team with 39 RBI. Stephen Neff earned the starting spot in right field toward season's end, and he has provided some power with five homers in 71 at-bats.
7. Lockdown Bullpen
South Carolina is 42-0 when leading after six innings, and 46-0 when ahead after eight, with All-American closer Matt Price putting the finishing touches on close victories. The draft-eligible sophomore logged an SEC-high 18 saves and posted 67 strikeouts in 57 innings of work.
Senior John Taylor got into a Carolina-record 45 games, posting a 1.27 ERA with 40 hits allowed in 63.2 innings.
8. Not Nervous in Front of Crowds
There will be 20,000-plus fans in Omaha to cheer their teams on, but that will not phase the Gamecocks, who are used to playing in front of a crowd. USC ranked fourth nationally in home attendance, averaging 7,390, behind only LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Ten SEC teams ranked in the top 30 nationally, meaning the Gamecocks usually faced a large, hostile crowd when they hit the road.
9. SEC Grinder
In the nation’s toughest conference, South Carolina tied with Florida and Vanderbilt with a 22-8 league mark. It lost only one series—at Ole Miss in early May—and took two of three at Florida and at home vs. Vandy.
Ray Tanner’s team is the only SEC squad to earn NCAA tournament appearances over the last 12 years.
Eleven South Carolina players were taken in the MLB draft, led by Jackie Bradley Jr., who was taken No. 40 overall by Boston. Closer Matt Price was next, selected by Arizona in the sixth round. The number marks the second-highest figure in SEC history, one behind Vandy’s total this year.