USC-UVA Notebook: Gamecock Defense Shines
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USC-UVA Notebook: Gamecock Defense Shines

OMAHA, Neb.—Virginia was supposed to be the team built on pitching and defense. The Cavaliers came into Tuesday's matchup with a 2.24 ERA and a .980 fielding percentage, but it was South Carolina that dominated both. The Gamecocks defense put up one sparkling place after another while Virginia kicked the ball around.

The three-run first inning for South Carolina was fueled by costly Virginia errors. One out away from ending the first inning, Virginia third baseman Steven Proscia misplayed a ground ball to allow Christian Walker to reach.

After an RBI double from Jackie Bradley, Jr., Adrian Morales singled to right field to score a run. The throw came into the Virginia infield, and first baseman Jared King tried to throw behind Morales at first, but the ball ended up in the first base dugout because of a bad throw, sending Morales to third. He scored on Brady Thomas' RBI double.

The early errors gave South Carolina momentum that was uncharacteristic of Virginia's play all year.

"Anytime we make errors, it's frustrating," said Proscia, who also made a throwing error in the ninth inning. "If I make that play in the first inning, it could change the total complexion of that game. It could be a totally different ball game. Our defense has been there all year, and we just didn't have it tonight."

Virginia made three errors on the night, but center fielder Kenny Swab misplayed a ball hit by Jake Williams for a triple that could have been ruled an error.

Where the Cavaliers defense struggled, the Gamecocks were perfect. South Carolina's .973 fielding percentage coming into the game is nothing to laugh at, and they proved it by making all of the routine plays and some spectacular ones. Shortstop Peter Mooney started it in the fourth inning with a sliding play in the hole at shortstop, and he popped to his feet and threw in time.

With the bases loaded and one out, Gamecocks reliever John Taylor came into the game and got a comebacker to start a 1-2-3 double play.

The defensive show continued in the seventh inning with a potential double play, as second baseman Scott Wingo backhanded a ball up the middle and flipped with his glove to Mooney at second. The shortstop used a quick pivot to get the ball on the way to first, but first base umpire Mike Conlin ruled the runner safe.

"They've been doing that all year," Taylor said of the defense behind him. "I'm very thankful to have older guys with experience. There were a few balls I thought would've gone up the middle if Wingo wasn't there."

SEC DOMINANCE: Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt were viewed as three of the top teams in college baseball all season, and nothing happening in Omaha has changed that.

Florida and South Carolina are in control of the two brackets, with a team needing to beat each twice in order to keep the Gamecocks or Gators out of the championship series.

The strength of the SEC has been felt on the diamond for years, but it's rare to have three teams from the same league dominating like they are.

"I'm proud of our conference for carrying the flag," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "I think a lot of conferences look to the SEC for a blueprint. We have a commitment from presidents, athletic directors and facilities. Players like to play in our league because of the exposure."

This is the first time the SEC has had two teams start 2-0 in the College World Series. It goes even further than that, as Florida and South Carolina are both in the SEC's Eastern Division. The last time a conference had two teams start bracket play 2-0 was in 1979 when Texas and Arkansas, both in the Southwest Conference then, did it.

Vanderbilt lost a 3-1 game to Florida on Tuesday morning, giving the SEC East three of the six teams remaining.

"It has been the entire year that (the three teams) have been there," Tanner said. "We go into the start and we're all a game apart. Then the sixth weekend, we're a game apart. Then Vandy takes over, we're up there and Florida takes over. It was that way throughout the entire year. It's just consistent clubs, and it speaks volumes about the quality of baseball week in and week out in the Southeastern Conference."

MIDDLE OF THE ORDER: The Gamecocks got most of their production from the middle of the order. The starters in the 3-6 spots in the lineup went 10-for-19 with five RBI and four runs scored. Tanner wasn't sure where he would hit Bradley, even fighting it until the last minute before he turned in his scorecard. He penciled him in cleanup, and Bradley responded with a 2-for-5 performance.

"I fought through this (lineup) over the last day and a half," said Tanner, after using his 47th different lineup of the year. "I asked Jackie where he felt comfortable, and he told me fifth. If he felt comfortable fifth, we'd just go up another spot."

Brady Thomas was penciled into the cleanup spot during the postseason, but his recent struggles had Tanner thinking of making a change anyway. Thomas moved down to the six-hole and went 3-for-4 with an RBI double.

"Brady has been scuffling a little bit," Tanner said. "He might've been putting too much pressure on himself, so we dropped him down a little bit and he had a pretty good night."

EXTRA BASES: The game was delayed 68 minutes because of rain… The attendance was 22,027, bringing the eight-game total to 172,916 and an average of 21,615. The total and average were announced to be slightly ahead of last year's average… Bradley's RBI double in the first inning was his first RBI single April 19… Tuesday's win for South Carolina matches the NCAA Tournament record with 13 straight wins in the tournament… Eighteen of the last 21 national champions have started bracket play 2-0. South Carolina (2010), Oregon State (2005) and Southern Cal (1998) are the exceptions… South Carolina has five wins over teams ranked No. 1 in the country after beating Virginia… The six-run loss matched Virginia's biggest deficit of the year.