"Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same - pitching." - Earl Weaver
You probably wouldn't find Ray Tanner's Gamecocks sitting at the winner's post-game press conference had it not been for the gutsy and impressive performances of his pitching staff this week.
Sam Dyson keeps the Gamecocks alive on Tuesday, working seven innings and throwing 112 pitches in 100-degree temperatures to stifle the tournament's top seed. His line: 7 1/3 innings, eight hits, four runs and three strikeouts.
Blake Cooper pitches against Oklahoma on Thursday, throwing 98 pitches against a team who had faced him just three days earlier. His line: 5 2/3 innings, four hits, one run, six strikeouts.
Michael Roth turning in an incredible complete-game performance against in-state rival Clemson. His line: nine innings, three hits, one run, four strikeouts.
Dyson taking the hill on three days' rest to close out the Tigers and propel the Gamecocks to the finals. His line: 6 2/3 innings, five hits, two earned runs, five strikeouts.
And what more can you say about Matt Price's jaw-dropping numbers this week: 7 innings, 129 pitches, 12 strikeouts, one run, three hits.
Choose your adjective. Heroic. Herculean. Incredible.
Tanner credits pitching coach Mark Calvi for preparing his arms to be ready when called upon and his pitchers for executing the game plan.
"Coach Calvi has worked extremely hard. He's a tireless worker on scouting reports," he said. "If they can make some pitches, then we can stay in some games. We've got some talented pitchers."
Of the last four teams standing in Omaha, the Gamecocks have allowed the fewest number of runs (14 allowed in five games). UCLA has allowed 15 runs in four games. Clemson allowed 16 runs in four games and TCU allowed 19 runs in five games.
As a pitching staff, the Gamecocks have a 2.68 ERA in five games with 40 strikeouts and eight walks. South Carolina's opponents are hitting .202 against Gamecock pitching and have just 34 hits in 168 at-bats. All five opponents have been held to five runs or less.
The Gamecock bullpen is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA, striking out 17 batters without a walk over 13.1 innings in the College World Series.
In a repeat of the program's appearance in the 2002 College World Series, the Gamecocks battled their way through the losers bracket and defeated Clemson twice to advance to the national championship game. Under Tanner, the Gamecocks are now 12-3 when facing elimination in Omaha.
In the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks have proven their resilience, coming from behind in all three games in the Columbia Regional and once in the Myrtle Beach Super Regional. South Carolina also came from behind to defeat Oklahoma in an elimination game on Thursday.
"A couple days ago, we were down to our last strike, planning a trip back home and now we have an opportunity to play for a national championship," said Tanner. "But it's a never-say-die team. We've battled. That's who we've been and we keep competing."
"We've done things the hard way all year," said Whit Merrifield. "We got here, we lost the first game. We said, you know, we've been doing things the hard way all year, why not keep doing it?"
Monday Starter TBD
Shortly after clinching a berth in the title series, Tanner was still unsure of who his starter would be on Monday against UCLA.
"Coach Calvi and I have a routine going that we get together at 1:30 in the morning," he said. "Everybody's asleep and we sit there for a little while and chat it up and visit. So that's what we'll do again tonight and try to figure it out a little bit."
Light Crowd on Saturday Night
If you were in the stands at Rosenblatt Stadium or watched the game on television Saturday night, you may have noticed a few empty seats. Saturday's earlier game also had several empty sections. It's been hard to narrow down an exact reason, but it may have been due to a couple of circumstances. The heat index was in the 100s on Saturday, so high temperatures may have kept a few local citizens away from the ballpark. In addition, the Saturday games are not always a guaranteed part of the tournament, so many Omaha residents don't plan for them. In fact, this year was the first time since 1988 that both sides of the bracket had to play a second elimination game.
Limited Tickets Available for Championship Series
A limited number of tickets for the Championship Series will be sold in the lobby of the Embassy Suites at Old Market in Omaha from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on game days to Gamecock Club members only (must present membership card to purchase).
Game 5 Notes
-The last team to win the national championship after losing their opening game was Oregon State in 2006.
-The Gamecocks are now 29-4 when holding an opponent to three runs or less.
-Jackie Bradley, Jr extended his hit streak to 21 games and is 8-for-19 (.421) with nine RBIs and nine runs in the CWS, the most RBIs and runs for any player in this series.
-Christian Walker is batting 8-for-20 (.400) in the CWS with two homers and five RBIs.
-Whit Merrifield was a hit shy of hitting for the cycle against Clemson tonight, with a single, double and triple in his first three plate appearances. The last player to hit for the cycle in the CWS was Minnesota's Jerry Kindall in 1956.