Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The journey to a national title

Gamecock fans have been waiting for a long time to celebrate and the 2010 USC baseball team's national championship trophy should be front and center in the South Carolina trophy case. Ray Tanner's path to a national title is a testament of what it takes to be the best in the nation. There were so many times where the Gamecocks stared the end of the season right in the face and decided that they weren't done yet.

Friday, June 4th: Bucknell 5 South Carolina 1 heading to the bottom of the 6th

It's the opening game of the Columbia regional. The #1 seeds have a big advantage as they play an automatic bid qualifier. The Bison had the Gamecocks on the ropes and it's awfully tough to play your way from the loser's bracket to a regional title on the first weekend of the NCAA's. Everyone was on upset alert when the score came in. What did USC do? They didn't panic and took care of business and roared from behind to win 9-5. Michael Roth pitched 3 plus innings of shutout ball to settle things down. The Gamecocks went on to cruise the rest of the way and beat the Citadel and Virginia Tech to win the regional.

Saturday, June 12th: South Carolina 4 Coastal Carolina 3 in the 8th inning. CCU has the bases loaded and nobody out

The Chanticleers were ready to bust the dam and win their first ever game in the Super Regional. If CCU simply put the ball in play they were going to at least draw even if not take control of the game. Ray Tanner brought in Matt Price who proceeded to strike out Chance Gilmore and Taylor Motter and then got a bounce back to the mound from Dan Bowman. Price pitches a flawless ninth and the Gamecocks take game one.

Sunday, June 13th: Coastal Carolina 9 South Carolina 7, 2 outs in the 8th inning

CCU just got a double play and were four outs away from drawing even in the best of three series. Austin Fleet had come on in relief in the 6th inning for CCU and was probably going to give way to Anthony Meo in the 9th to shut the door. Jackie Bradley, Jr. grinded out a walk. Adrian Morales doubled to bring the winning run to the plate. Christian Walker launched a three run bomb that put the Gamecocks ahead 10-9. Everyone will talk about the Walker blast and rightfully so, but it was Bradley, Jr. who worked a full count. He was one strike away from inning over and likely game over for the Gamecocks (sounds a little like later on against Oklahoma doesn't it?) The Gamecocks punched their ticket to Omaha with a 10-9 win.

Sunday, June 20th: Oklahoma 4 South Carolina 3 - FINAL
The Gamecocks had their chances to win this game, but simply left too many runners on base. After enduring nine hours to play through rain delays it looked like it was going to be two and done. Surely, the Gamecocks couldn't knock off #1 seed Arizona State and then endure five more wins. That was the thinking on Sunday evening, but as we learned it was the last loss of the year for USC.

Thursday, June 24th: Oklahoma 2 South Carolina 1 heading to the bottom of the 12th

Robert Beary had a single and stole second, but the Gamecocks had two outs and Jackie Bradley, Jr was one strike away from USC packing their bags and heading for home. But Bradley grinded it out again and laced a base hit to right to score Beary and tie the game. Walker walked and Brady Thomas delivered the heroics in a 3-2 walk off win.

Friday, June 25th: Pregame Clemson vs South Carolina
The Gamecocks need two wins to reach the national championship series and Clemson is in the driver's seat. Blake Cooper pitched on Thursday and Sam Dyson can't throw until Saturday. Ray Tanner is hoping that Michael Roth can give him three good innings and that the bullpen can piece together a win. Roth goes on to throw three good innings, then three more and then a final three. A complete game gem that gives the Gamecocks all the momentum. Dyson goes on to stifle Clemson and the Gamecocks reach the national championship series.

Tuesday, June 29th: UCLA 1 South Carolina 1 in the 9th inning
The Bruins load the bases, but Matt Price is there again with the clutch strikeout. Just like the CCU Super Regional all over again. Price delivers when he has to and once again you feel like UCLA used up their last chance and it was South Carolina's destiny to win.

You know how the rest of the story goes. Whit Merrifield goes the opposite way, Scott Wingo leaps towards home and the Gamecocks are national champs. Seven times during the post-season the Gamecocks were on the verge of heading south. In the end they came through each and every time and that's why they are national champions.

This Gamecock team had the star power with Blake Cooper and Jackie Bradley, Jr, and it had the players who rose to the occasion like Roth and Bobby Haney. But more important than all of that was the intangibles. Tanner talked about it and it rang true. Working the count with two strikes, making great defensive plays when they needed to and never giving up.

Tanner loves the college baseball game and knows what it means to simply make it to Omaha. Now he has won the last CWS game ever at Rosenblatt Stadium and will be a legend in South Carolina Gamecock circles for generations to come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Not quite ready for Omaha

Thanks to Steve Maass for sending this picture of Christian Walker's blast that sent the Gamecocks to Omaha

One of the most exciting 10 days of covering local sports in Myrtle Beach has come to a close. When it was all said and done, ticket gate still had 40 percent of the crowd wearing garnet and the national exposure for Coastal Carolina is always invaluable for the University.

In 2008, I was in Cary, NC when the Chanticleers were totally dominated by the North Carolina Tar Heels. CCU looked like a program that was not quite ready to step into college baseball's elite. I feel that this past weekend was a big step forward towards the Chanticleers ultimate goal towards making it to Omaha. That's little consolation to Gary Gilmore, who knew that this was a team that had the tools to take that next step.

In a nutshell, I think the two game Gamecocks sweep came down to defense. There were probably a half dozen plays by USC that were worthy of a star in the scorecard. From Scott Wingo's double play to great plays in the outfield and make the routine plays, the Gamecocks didn't give CCU anything extra. If Coastal plays error free baseball on Sunday, they cruise to a game two win. If Matt Rein doesn't turn his ankle on the first play on Saturday perhaps he makes the throw on the next play that triggered the Gamecocks three run first inning.

Gilly was backed into a corner. When it was Saturday at noon he had his two starters that were completely out of gas. Anthony Meo threw just 13 pitches in the Super Regional. If CCU were able to pull out that second game, Meo would have had the ball in game three in what would have been advantage CCU. Cody Wheeler's last game as a Chant was maligned by errors.

Austin Fleet was one pitch away from a 2 run lead heading to the 9th. Jackie Bradley, Jr's patience to draw a walk sparked an Adrian Morales double and Walker's three run blast that seemed to travel to the Sheraton. The Chants were one power arm short out of the bullpen.

If there's one positive that CCU can take out of it is that they learned that they are a national power. There were some across the state and even the nation that thought the SEC big boy would come to the beach and blow away the Big South cinderella. Jackie Bradley, Jr and Christian Walker were quick to answer the question if CCU was an SEC caliber team with a response of "yes".

Gary Gilmore said after the game that Omaha never felt so far away to him. When time passes and the summer months rage on, Gilly will recharge and once again put CCU in the national conversation. It may not be a 55 win team, but as CCU fans are learning, all that matters is what happens in June. It shouldn't be discounted that this is a program that is revered across the nation and one day it will get to Omaha.

Ray Tanner is one of the classiest people to deal with in Palmetto state sports. He is now taking USC to Omaha for the fourth time in his career. The Gamecocks will no doubt be underdogs in the field of eight, but if they can grind like they did this past weekend in Myrtle Beach, you never know what could happen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Super Regional Game One

We're not allowed to shoot highlights during the Super Regional, so I'm sequestered in the press box. The big headline prior to first pitch was that Matt Rein was getting the start over Anthony Meo and Cody Wheeler. I saw Meo in the clubhouse prior to the game and he looked as if he was still fighting the effects of the summer cold bug that he got. The fact that it is about 200 degrees on the field didn't help the cause.


It's amazing how one play can trigger an onslaught. On the very first batter, Rein turns his ankle making the out at first and looked like he was going to have to leave. On the very next play, Rein fielded a bounce back that should have been an easy out, but a wild throw got a three run inning started that had the Gamecocks got for a mere hit.


Exit Matt Rein enter Josh Conway. The Chanticleers are very fortunate to escape with just one run. It's now 4-0 Gamecocks. With Blake Cooper throwing, it's a huge hole for the Chanticleers to dig out of.

Dan Bowman has hit a screaming liner that cleared the left field fence. It's now 4-2at the end of two.


Tommy LaStella and Julio Iglesias had back to back singles and Chance Gilmore plated LaStella with a bloop single to left. The Chants had 2 on with nobody out, but Cooper got out of jam. It's 4-3 after four. Ryan Connelly is on in relief for CCU, the third pitcher of the game for the Chants.


The Chanticleers threaten. Cooper loads the bases with one out. Dan Bowman, who homered earlier smashes one off Cooper's glove. Scott Wingo turns a big time 6-3 DP to get out of the jam. It remains 4-3. Shades of the 9th inning College of Charleston play - Big time play by Wingo there.


An absolute head scratcher. Anthony Meo pitches a scoreless 7th. Gilly is now burning his ace in a relief role. Can he pitch on Monday if necessary? This will be the big question in the post-game press conference. I can understand if CCU had a 4-3 lead, but down 4-3, Gilly is rolling the dice in a big way.


Meo pitches 1 1/3 innings in relief and throws 13 pitches. He should be ready to go on Monday if needed. Matt Laney is the sixth CCU pitcher on in relief. Laney does his job. CCU has six outs left.

The bottom of the 8th tells the story. CCU loads the bases with nobody out. Matt Price comes in and gets two strikeouts and a bounce back to the mound. If the Gamecocks get to Omaha, Price is the first key to that happening.

CCU would get two on in the 9th but once again leave ducks on the pond.

4-3 the final. Cody Wheeler will get the ball in game two. A great game. CCU had their chances to win it.