Neb. – Down to two teams at the 2012 College World Series, it’s hard to imagine
two teams as different as the two combatants for this season’s national
are South Carolina and Arizona all that different when you start scratching beneath
the answer, we’re about to get a full dose of whatever reality is with a
national crown on the line.
Gamecocks (49-18) and Wildcats (46-17) lock horns in the best-of-three national
championship series starting at 7 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park, with Game
2 at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Game 3, if necessary, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
first blush, there seems to be a lot differentiating the two finalists.
|CWS statsTeam BA/R: .277/18|
Team pitching: 1.20 ERA
elephant in the discussion, of course, is the level of experience at this stage
of the season.
Carolina is taking aim at a third consecutive national crown, something that
hasn’t been achieved in college baseball since Southern California piled up
five titles in a row from 1970-74.
core group of Gamecocks who will take the diamond for the first pitch Sunday
have been around for both previous championships, although there are a handful
of freshmen interspersed at key spots.
meanwhile, is in Omaha for the first time since 2004 and the climb here took
some tough, incremental steps and a notable move to a different home ballpark
|CWS statsTeam BA/R: .219/17 |
Team pitching: 1.60 ERA
way the two teams have gotten things done the last nine days is also divergent
– and similar to what’s added up to their success all season long.
Carolina, the method has been the same grind-it-out style that’s let to 28
one-run games this season. Pitching and defense are at the soul of how the
Gamecocks win, with timely offensive execution replacing big innings.
Carolina is hitting .219 as a team in the CWS and has won four games despite
scoring only 17 runs. The Gamecocks’ team ERA is 1.60, though, and they are
fielding at a .995 clip.
Wildcats arrived in Omaha as the hottest offensive team and have adapted well,
relying on top-notch pitching (a CWS-best 1.20 ERA in three games) and
rock-solid defense (one error in 30 defensive innings) to carve out two wins
before rediscovering things with the bats with a 15-hit explosion in a 10-3
triumph over Florida State last Thursday.
then there’s just a different personality between the two programs, perhaps
built in by geography and how they each play baseball.
Gamecocks are loose and relaxed – comfortable being back again on this biggest
of stages there is for college baseball.
players are a bit more reserved, perhaps a product of being here for the first
time, and seem focused on soaking it all in.
add one more twist to the storyline, the two coaches seem to be exuding an
almost opposite feeling of their respective teams.
|Ray Tanner: Looking to guide his team to a third straight national crown|
Ray Tanner is sticking to the underdog foothold.
probably the underdog,” said Tanner, who is seeking to join Texas’ Augie
Garrido as the only active coach with three national championships. “We’ve been
through the loser’s bracket. We’ve played a couple of extra games. And these
guys (Arizona) are scoring 10-12 runs a game. They’re just an offensive
juggernaut, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.
they have the advantage because of their offensive prowess, so we’ll see. We’ll
see if we can step up on the mound and keep things interesting.”
coach Andy Lopez, on the other hand, speaks with a verbal swagger about this
team, which was constructed starting in 2010 after UA bottomed out and missed
the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Lopez is also looking to join Garrido as the only coach in NCAA history to lead
two different programs to an NCAA crown. He won the 1992 CWS with Pepperdine
and 20 years later is on the cusp of history.
quipped about being part of the Ray Tanner Invitational and spoke with a
confidence about a Wildcats crew that is in the middle of a season-best
nine-game winning streak (8-0 in the NCAA Tournament) and has won 16 of the
last 18 games.
“We’re here because we’re playing good
baseball and I’m not going to do anything to change that,” Lopez said. “The
season is a grind and when you get to the postseason and especially if you’re
fortunate enough to get to Omaha, this is a reward for these guys.”
|Andy Lopez: Looking for national championship No. 2 after guiding Pepperdine to the title in 1992|
there’s nothing bigger at stake than the national championship the next few
days, there is also an underlying theme of SEC vs. Pac-12 baseball.
SEC has grabbed college baseball’s catbird seat as the best league in the
country, with the Gamecocks trying to win the league’s fourth championship in a
row and 10th in the last 23 years.
a lull in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Pac-12 is firmly back among the
national elite, with UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State and UA all
regarded as big-time players on the national scene.
for West Coast baseball to garner some tangible respect, an Arizona victory
would do an awful lot.
a delicate balance between respect for the other league and pride in your own.
“When I went to the (Cape Cod League) and was
talking with my teammates, they’re from all over and they always joked about
the ‘Pace 10’ and the ‘Pace 12,’ ” Wildcats outfielder Robert Refsnyder said.
“So that’s kind of where I realized we need to try and gain some respect
“I think it’s great for Arizona, for the West
Coast and for the Pac to be matched up against such a powerhouse in the SEC and
hopefully it helps the Pac-12 gain some momentum in the whole realm of college
athletics, especially college baseball.”
Carolina’s players talked about their respect for Arizona for being on the
other side of the championship matchup, but there was also talk about what it
takes to get through – survive – in the SEC on a weekly basis, something Lopez
learned during his tenure as Florida’s coach from 1994-2001.
it was meant to be deferential or not, the Wildcats spoke about the Gamecocks
like they were from a different stratosphere.
|Shortstop Alex Mejia is one of four Arizona juniors who have started every game this season|
“These are the people I watched on television
during summer ball the last few years,” Refsnyder said. “They’re doing
UA shortstop Alex Mejia, “They’re trying to do something special over there.”
mistake the respect for Carolina for the Wildcats not focusing on the task at
hand or being just as intent on winning as the Gamecocks.
owns three national championships, the last in 1986, and three runnerup
showings in a proud history.
of those totals will increase by one in the next few days and for a team built
around a strong junior class brought to Tucson to get the Wildcats back on
track, the journey to get to this point has been a magical one.
sometimes feels like an unobtainable goal, especially when you’re in 6 o’clock
weights and running and saying ‘Boy, I hope we get there, because it might be
for nothing,’ ” Refsnyder said. “It’s neat that we’re a part of it and great
that we’re playing the best baseball of the year and we’re just looking forward
to competing against South Carolina. It’s going to be a great matchup.”
NOTES: Sunday SP matchup favors Cats
VIDEO: CWS title preview -- South Carolina
VIDEO: CWS title preview -- Arizona
ON DECK: CWS Day 9