OMAHA, Neb. – With a semi-anticlimactic ending to the 2011 College World Series Tuesday night, especially compared to the exhilaration that provide an exclamation point the year before, you might've thought there was also a dearth of drama.
Not even close.
In fact, if you watched and listened closely enough, you caught a very nostalgic and memorable glimpse of why college sports have such a special and permanent place in the hearts of American sports fans.
South Carolina claimed the victory and the national championship with – for them – an almost ho-hum 5-2 triumph at TD Ameritrade Park.
The celebration was still spirited, of course, but fairly controlled. The dog pile was still there but not quite as dramatic as the Gamecocks' first go at it a year ago.
Thing is, the South Carolina players have pretty much mastered how to win in Omaha and now they've gotten pretty familiar with how to celebrate as well.
All that aside, there were a couple of snapshots after the game was over that explain why the College World Series is such a consequential goal to college baseball players.
One was provided by Florida and it was as honorable a gesture as you'll ever see.
While the Carolina celebration raged on all over the TD Ameritrade diamond, the Gators stood in unison along the first-base line and respectfully watched as the Gamecocks collected their newest hardware.
Granted, there's the SEC connection, and it was also a great coaching ploy by Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan to burn a memory in his players' minds.
Florida is well-stocked with freshmen and sophomores and figure to be one of prohibitive favorites to knock South Carolina off its throne next season, so why not give those returning players the strongest motivation possible?
When a handful of Gators and O'Sullivan got to the postgame press conference, there was a poignant moment when Josh Adams was asked a question and he struggled to manage his emotions – grappling for a long, quiet moment with the emotions of a senior who had just played his final game and knew the time with a special group of teammates had reached the final page.
The Gamecocks got their turn at the microphones after their on-field fiesta finally wound down and they were understandably in a different mood.
But there was also a tinge of sadness when Carolina coach Ray Tanner talked about what his team had accomplished , how it had congealed through tough times this season and found ways to keep winning all the way to a second straight national championship.
Make no mistakes about it, the intense Tanner fed off his loose bunch of Gamecocks and he'll miss the fun-loving chemistry that will be the impossible-to-forget hallmark of Carolina's second national title.
That's how seasons like this end, with both teams sprinting towards a finish line that – win or lose – winds being a bit of a crash landing because for most of six months you've spent so much time working and sweating and laboring toward a common goal.
South Carolina got there in first place again and it was undoubtedly satisfying to etch its name in the CWS history books, becoming only the sixth program that can say it has won back-to-back crowns.
For Florida, the hunt continues. The Gators have lost in the championship series twice in the last seven years, but there's no doubt they have carved a spot among the national elite.
Just a guess, but next season was probably already on both coaches' minds Tuesday night – Tanner already starting to feel the earliest stages of ‘Can we win three in a row?' and O'Sullivan pondering how his program gets over the hump in an SEC that figures to be as thorny as ever next season.
Another season in the books, the first with BBCOR bats, the first at a new CWS venue, and the second championship for a South Carolina program that punched through college baseball's tricky glass ceiling last season.
And while the celebration might've been a bit more tempered this time around – euphoria replaced by relief and a rawer form of happiness – it doesn't mean this one won't be treasured just as much by the Gamecocks and their fans.
Less drama, same result for Gamecocks
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