At Garnet Report, we are getting ready for some amazing games again this year at the College World Series. It’s amazing that we are once again one of the top teams in the country. And on June 16th, USC will begin its quest for a third consecutive national title when it squares off against Florida in a repeat of last year’s College World Series final.
In the press and even among the USC community I’ve heard some doubters say that they’re “not sure” how we’ll do. But let me tell you, I’m sure as hell. We’re going to crush Florida and go on to win our third consecutive College World Series. 2010, 2011, 2012. Just like we do.
How can we be so sure? Well there are six reasons…
1. Scrappy, hit-and-run offense
When College Baseball switched bats a few years ago, league batting average went down by 22 points. A decent .260 hitter becomes a mediocre .238 hitter. But USC’s offense adjusted incredibly well. We are excellent at putting down sacrifice bunts, stealing bases, and moving the runner over.
This type of offense isn’t sexy, nor is it as exciting as the power-oriented MLB. But since the bats are so dead, it’s necessary to find a way to turn singles into runs.
And USC does a wonderful job of being selfless at the plate. When Christian Walker squares to bunt, you know that the Gamecocks care much more about winning than they do personal stats or accomplishments. The only way a scrappy offense can work is with a strong pitching core. In fact, we are tied for 96th in the country in runs scored. An offense like this relies on strong defense and pitchers who don’t allow many runs.
2. Matt Price
Our closer has proven himself to be extremely reliable in tough situations. He is tied as the SEC record-holder for career saves with 41 and was chosen by the Orioles in the 7th round of this year’s MLB draft. He has 11 saves this year and continues to throw strikes. This year he has been on of Ray Tanner’s go-to men in the bullpen, and is able to pitch multi-inning saves (a valuable skill). He gives our starters confidence and allows pitching coach Jerry Meyers to feel good about pulling a starter early after a weak performance.
In his latest save, he pitched three scoreless innings against Oklahoma to win the Super Regional.
There is nothing worse than handing the ball to a relief pitcher and watching them throw the game away. Fortunately Matt Price is exceedingly effective and gives us an edge as one of the premier closers in college baseball.
3. Fear the Fish
If you haven’t heard the full story of the “Fear the Fish” slogan, it’s silly. LB Dantzler’s fish Reptar has become a mascot and rallying cry for the team. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a particular advantage, but every baseball fan knows that players are incredibly superstitious. Simply having a good luck charm is a confidence boost. Such a confidence boost, in fact, that when the team boarded the plane to Omaha this morning, Reptar was with them. You can be sure that the Gamecocks will have him nearby during every contest in Omaha.
In fact, I hope we give him a security detail. Because if I was an opposing fan, I’d be going after that fish.
Regardless, Reptar will be a huge boost in tight spots, and keep the team focused on winning.
(Also, the ridiculousness of listing a fish as a real benefit for the Gamecocks is not lost on us, but it’s true.)
4. Big Game Experience
Having won two College World Series in a row, we have more big game experience than any other team. Certainly there are new players that haven’t seen the same big game action, but many of our core players like Marzilli, Walker, Price, Roth, and Holmes already hold two World Series rings.
The psychological pressure of playing in primetime on ESPN with millions of viewers can be too much for inexperienced teams. By bringing plenty of strong, confident players who are used to winning in tough situations, we won’t have nearly as much stress as CWS virgins like Stony Brook and Kent State.
5. Engaged fans
Gamecock players have repeatedly mentioned how encouraging and supportive USC fans have been in their quest for dominance. We were able to secure the eighth and final national seed in this year’s tournament, ensuring the all-important home-field advantage in both the Regionals and Super Regionals. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have 8,000+ cheering fans on hand in Carolina Stadium.
The game against Florida will be the first away game we’ve played in weeks, but USC fans have demonstrated that they are willing to travel to Omaha in support of the team.
One of the best feelings is watching USC on TV, and switching channels to another team. Almost every time, the other team’s crowd feels sparse and uninterested. Having an engaged, and intense fan base is probably one of the most under-rated, under-discussed pieces to our success as a baseball team.
6. Relaxed culture
Image: Greenwich Time
Do you remember the rain-delay against Virginia last year? It lasted over an hour at a particularly tense moment in the tournament. While Virginia sat in the dugout and thought about the game, the Gamecocks were playing in the outfield, stealing a beach ball from fans and solidifying their spot as the locals’ adopted team in Omaha.
Michael Roth said: “I really wanted the big beach ball. That’s why I sprinted on the field after it” (Full story).
That relaxed culture really sets us apart from most other teams and allows us to stay loose, which is crucial.
We feel good
We feel good about USC playing in this year’s College World Series and can’t wait to see the game against Florida. Will you be able to travel to Omaha and cheer for a three-Peat?
Revisiting our Prediction from the Preview
If you don’t mind, allow us a moment of pride. Our lead editor Randall Stewart correctly predicted back in January that we would sweep our Regional and rematch with Florida (albeit not in the finals). Now let’s see if we can prove him wrong and beat them!