What a great win by the Gamecocks last night over the NCAA Tournament’s #1 overall national seed. It looked exceptionally frustrating in the early innings, like so many of our games have this season, but the Gamecocks found a way to win once again. Let’s take a closer look at some key points from last night’s game.
Last year 2, this year 3
During this incredible run from the 2010 season until now, the Gamecocks have never been a particularly scary offensive team. Pitching and defense are said to win championships, and no team in recent memory has epitomized that adage better than South Carolina. Last year it seemed, with a few exceptions, that Gamecock hitters were baffled by opposing pitchers the first time through the batting order. By the second time they saw a pitcher’s “stuff,” however, they began to sprinkle hits around the field.
This year, with a bevy of newcomers, the process has been slowed considerably. In many situations this season, especially when facing a team’s ace pitcher, it’s taken Gamecock hitters an extra at-bat to figure a pitcher out. At no time this season has that better been displayed than last night. Carolina left seven men stranded on base through the first four innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the 1st. While multiple scoring opportunities were squandered, veteran leadership helped Carolina break through in the 5th. Junior Evan Marzilli led off the inning with a double, then junior Christian Walker blasted a single through the left side of the infield two pitches later. Senior Adam Matthews walked, setting the table for Carolina’s younger players with the bases loaded and no men out. Sophomore Erik Payne then tripled to right-center field, scoring all three runners and giving the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead. Newcomers LB Dantzler and Chase Vergason also recorded RBI’s in the inning. Just as they have all season, the Gamecocks’ veterans made the plays that set up its newcomers to succeed.
Matt Price mowin em down
In 2010, junior closer Price came into his own during a 4-3 Super Regional victory over Coastal Carolina in Conway. His grit and competitiveness was on display throughout the College World Series, and he was a huge part of Carolina’s first national championship. In 2011, he teamed up with sidewinding set-up man John Taylor to create a nearly unhittable combination. Play-by-play announcer Andy Demetra coined the catchphrase “Taylor, Price, read the last rites.” He earned 10 saves in 2010 and an incredible 20 saves in 2011.
This season, coach Ray Tanner fulfilled a promise to let Price try his hand at starting. The experiment didn’t go well, and he returned to the bullpen during the Florida series in late March. Last night was Price’s 42nd career save, putting him in sole possession of the SEC career record. You begin to wonder how many saves he could have had if he’d stayed in the bullpen for the entire season. Southern Cal’s Jack Krawczyk is the NCAA’s all-time saves leader with 49 saves in four-year career. Should South Carolina play the maximum possible number of games in the CWS and Price save all of them (except the losses of course), he would end his career with 47. What an incredible three years it’s been for Price, making his way into the record books and becoming perhaps the most crucial player to our national titles.
Tanner the gambler
Tyler Webb was facing a precarious situation in the 7th inning. He was called in after a sacrifice bunt put Gators at second and third with one out and Carolina clinging to a 5-3 lead. The battle tested lefty induced a flyout from the left-handed hitting Preston Tucker. The ball was caught at medium depth in left field by Tanner English. Vickash Ramjit bluffed a move to the plate, then retreated back to third base on a play that drew chuckles in the press box about how much respect the Gators must have for English’s arm in left field (especially after their success rate against Gamecock left fielders in 2011). Florida’s right-handed hitting catcher Mike Zunino strode to the plate, and conventional wisdom would say to bring in Matt Price to get the Gamecocks out of the inning. But Tanner elected to leave Webb in the game and issue an unintentional intentional walk to Zunino to get to lefty Brian Johnson, who was batting clean up and started the game on the mound for the Gators. Johnson lined out to right field on the first pitch, ending the threat and making Tanner look like the frickin genius that we all know him to be. Johnson was responsible for seven stranded Gator baserunners on the evening, none bigger than the three in the seventh inning.
Florida’s pitching staff is in trouble
If coach Kevin O’Sullivan had last night to do over again, he probably would manage his pitchers a bit differently. The Gators used six pitchers, including three in the ninth inning with the game seemingly out of reach, in last night’s loss. O’Sullivan was undoubtedly thinking that with a two-run deficit and the top of the order coming up, his team would have a chance in the bottom of the 9th if they could hold the Gamecocks at bay. But baseball is a funny game, and errors have a way of piling up on each other, as Florida found out last night. Even with the score still within reach, O’Sullivan should have recognized the inevitability of the situation and managed his pitching staff more efficiently last night.
Why does this matter? Because Florida’s bullpen is anything but at full strength heading into tomorrow afternoon’s elimination game against Kent State. If Florida is to advance out of the loser’s bracket and win a national championship, it will have to win elimination games tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, then win a best-of-three series beginning Sunday night. It is imperative to have solid, rested pitching to go through this type of gauntlet, and Florida appears to have shot itself in the foot in its quest for its elusive first CWS title.
By the way, the only team to come out of the loser’s bracket and win six consecutive games for a national title? The 2010 South Carolina Gamecocks.
We were right!
Don’t you love it when you make a statement that turns out to be completely true? Check out this excerpt from our post yesterday on Carolina’s keys to victory against Florida:
Florida has experience too, but the wrong kind. Like South Carolina, the Gators have been to Omaha each of the last three seasons. In 2010, they were eliminated in just two games. And we all know what happened last year. The Gators returned almost all the key players from both of those teams this year, but have at no time appeared to be the dominant team everyone expected. Essentially, this Florida squad is a collection of individuals rather than a team. South Carolina’s cohesiveness, its inexplicable ability to win in the postseason, and its belief that it can win every game it plays will play into its favor here.
I have a theory about the Gators. They know that they’re the most talented collection of players in college baseball. Everyone tells them so, and they’re absolutely right about it. But the Gators, for whatever reason, haven’t played as a cohesive unit during the last three years. They know they SHOULD be the best team, but they don’t seem to have the team atmosphere around them that the Gamecocks are so beloved for. The Gators put so much pressure on themselves to perform well that when things go wrong, they really unravel. We saw it back on March 26 against them in Columbia–a 2-2 tie became a 6-2 Gamecock lead in the 7th in a game that South Carolina would go on to win 9-3. We see it in most games that the Gators lose. And we saw it again last night. The five fifth-inning runs were all because of great hitting. The two ninth-inning runs were all on Florida. The Gators committed two errors, threw two wild pitches, and couldn’t find an out when it literally smacked them in the glove. You could see in their body language how frustrated they were. And it was beautiful.
It was a really interesting and cool day on the Twitter-nets. We’ve mentioned the cornucopia of new followers (377 and counting) that we picked up on our account since yesterday. But in my humble opinion, South Carolina easily has the biggest Twitter presence of any baseball program. Between 9:45 and 9:49 PM Central time (the four minutes directly after Erik Payne’s bases-clearing triple and LB Dantzler’s RBI double to make the score 4-2), #fearthefish was the #2 trending topic in the US. What was #3? South Carolina. Unbelievable that a college baseball team could be the numbers two and three trending topics in the country during prime time on a Saturday night. Gamecock fans may have also started a new Twitter rallying cry, as it appears “Fear the <><” is now officially a thing.
And if you’re a Gamecock fan that doesn’t know what “Fear the Fish” means, look it up right this instant. Also shame on you.
All-in-all, pretty fun game last night. Carolina kind of did its thing: waste chances, look kinda stupid offensively, then explode out of nowhere and play solid defense (except for one badly misjudged ball in the outfield) to make the final score look really impressive. Am I pleased? Yes. Am I satisfied? Hell no. Let’s go win another one tomorrow night.