Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
Will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Dr. Seuss penned the above words in Oh, The Places You’ll Go! And as disappointing as it may be for those of us who love Gamecock athletics to see us return to Columbia without a national championship trophy in tow, we have no reason to be down on this team or be disappointed in the way they played. They’ve proven over the last three seasons that they are resilient, tough, and formidable. They don’t play for themselves. They play for Bayler Teal and Charlie Peters and their whole families. They play for the 8,242 that fill Carolina Stadium for nearly every SEC game. They play together. The Gamecocks may not be the best collection of individual talent on the field, but for the past three years, they have been the greatest team in college baseball. They’re in the discussion among the greatest teams in the history of college baseball. They play BaylerBall. They battle. They win anyway. They fear the fish. And they are champions.
Sure, this moment stings. It’s hard to see another team dogpiling in a city that’s become another home to us, holding the trophy we’ve come to love and cherish so much since that warm June night two years ago, claiming the title of “National Champion” that we’ve tasted the sweet nectar of attaching to our names and hoped so desperately to do again. But let’s not forget that this is a team that was never supposed to be here. We brought back three starting position players from last year. Three! This is a team that was supposed to be good…in 2013, or even 2014. Not 2012. Not now, not with so many fresh faces and inexperienced players and with the odds stacked so heavily against us. There were growing pains over the first few months of the season, but something changed in early April. LB Dantzler crushed a walk-off double (1:50 mark of the video) to beat Tennessee, and there was a fire in the Gamecocks that hadn’t been seen all season. A month later, the Gamecocks had won 11 straight conference games and went from last place in the East to fighting for an SEC championship.
But Dantzler’s booming double wasn’t the only magical moment the Gamecocks have enjoyed over the last few years. There were heated conference battles that saw Carolina come out on top, from walk-off plays that barely left the infield against Georgia (2:03 mark of the video) and Kentucky (3:26), to Scott Wingo’s late-inning heroics against Auburn (1:54) and Arkansas (2:40), to huge moments on the mound against Vanderbilt (4:29). There was a breakthrough inning against top-ranked Florida (2:14) and a perfectly-placed bloop against Alabama, a pitcher’s duel turned offensive outburst against Ole Miss, a walk-off smash against the Crimson Tide, and a huge comeback against Bucknell (2:05) that spawned the legend of the Avatar Spirit Stick. LB Dantzler gave Gamecock fans the pleasure of a walk-off NCAA Tournament victory over Clemson. Christian Walker, Mr. Clutch in the Super Regionals, hit Omaha-clinching 8th inning home runs against Coastal Carolina and UConn in consecutive years. There was Michael Roth’s final curtain call at Carolina Stadium, where the Gamecock fans that had grown so accustomed to seeing him climb the mound and dominate a visiting opponent got the chance to thank him one final time.
And who could forget the Gamecocks’ classic moments in Omaha? There was an offensive outburst against Arizona State that doomed the tournament’s top seed, then a dramatic extra-innings comeback against Oklahoma on the night Gamecock Nation lost Bayler Teal. There was Michael Roth’s career-making start against Clemson, a complete game three-hitter by a pitcher who had nearly as many appearances as innings pitched on the year. There was a second, dramatic victory over the Tigers that put the Gamecocks in the Championship Series. Matt Price delivered an unbelievable strikeout against UCLA. There was a walk-off by Scott Wingo against Texas A&M, double plays in the 12th and 13th innings against Virginia, a diving stop by Scott Wingo and short-hopped throw to Robert Beary that defied physics, a double play two pitches later that defied explanation, and an outfield assist an inning later that defied logic.
There was the sight of the team dogpiling in 2011 with Charlie Peters diving onto the mass of bodies that brings a tear to the eye of any Gamecock fan, for more reasons than one. And, in the proudest moment in South Carolina’s athletics history, there was Whit Merrifield being chased around the infield, tongue hanging out and arms spanned in triumph, after delivering an opposite field single to give the Gamecocks their first national championship.
So yes, you may be feeling a little empty tonight. You may be hurting. Heck, you may have even shed a tear or two. But let’s not ever forget the moments this team has given us and the joy we’ve felt because of them. They represent the best this university has to offer, both on and off the field. Even if they don’t have a trophy, they are champions.