College World Series 2011: Outlook for the Defending South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina Gamecocks are back in Omaha to defend their national title, and any time the defending champion is back in the field, they have to be considered a threat to win it all.
But the Gamecocks aren't the most talented team in the field, and on paper, they shouldn't be favored.
Just don't tell them that.
South Carolina returns much of the team from last season, and they think they are the team to beat once again. They are a perfect 5-0 so far in the NCAA tournament, but it hasn't been easy.
Their run began in a home regional in Columbia. In the opening game, they squeaked by upstart Georgia Southern 2-1. Then things opened up for them as they beat Stetson twice by scores of 11-5 and 8-2 to move on to the super regional round.
Their super regional was at home in Columbia against Connecticut; they swept the series against the Huskies with scores of 5-1 and 8-2. That might make it seem like the Gamecocks didn't have much trouble with UConn, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
The Gamecocks trailed at some point in both games, and Game 2 was tied at two runs apiece heading into the eighth inning.
South Carolina is led by a solid pitching staff from top to bottom with the unquestioned ace, Michael Roth. Roth is 13-3 with a 1.02 ERA, and opponents have a .213 batting average against him. The starters behind Roth aren't as talented, so they will be leaning on him to give South Carolina great starts every time out.
The real strength of the South Carolina pitching staff behind Roth is their bullpen.
The Gamecocks have six relievers with ERA's of 3.21 or lower. Workhorse John Taylor has a 1.27 ERA in 45 appearances. Closer Matt Price has a 2.16 ERA and 18 saves. Steven Neff and Tyler Webb are two relievers who also have significant starting experience this season, so those guys will be the ones to go to in long relief if coach Ray Tanner needs them.
South Carolina's offense won't wow you with eye-popping stats, but they get it done.
Their leader is Christian Walker; he is hitting .359 with 10 home runs and 60 RBI. Scott Wingo and Brady Thomas provide protection for Walker with .338 and .311 batting averages, respectively.
2010's College World Series Most Outstanding Player, Jackie Bradley, Jr., is set to return to Omaha as well. Before being lost to injury in the latter part of the season, Bradley was struggling with the bat, but he will give South Carolina another experienced hitter in the lineup.
He also upgrades the team defensively. Few players will be able to cover TD Ameritrade Park's spacious outfield as well as him.
Make no bones about it—the Gamecocks are back in Omaha with the intention to win. They still believe they are the best team in the field and will be looking to show it.
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