OMAHA, Neb. – Some notes, quotes and numbers as South Carolina and Arizona get set to meet in the 2012 College World Series championship series…
On the mound
The starting pitching matchup looms as a bit of a mismatch in Sunday’s opening game, with the Wildcats sending No. 2 starter Konner Wade (10-3) to the mound against South Carolina sophomore Forrest Koumas (2-2), who hasn’t pitched in nearly a month.
Wade twirled one of the best performances of this year’s CWS when he stymied UCLA on five hits in a complete-game 4-0 shutout last Sunday with four strikeouts and no walks.
That was the latest piece of postseason success for the sophomore right-hander, who has done his best work away from Tucson.
He is 3-1 with a 3.47 ERA this season away from home with three complete games in six starts. His gem against UCLA was the first complete-game shutout in Omaha without a walk since 1972.
It’s been 25.1 innings since Wade has issued a free pass.
Koumas has had an up-and-down season and his last action was a 1.1-inning relief stint against Florida at the SEC Tournament.
|Forrest Koumas: Second straight year he gets a start in the championship series opener|
The last start for Koumas came against LSU on May 18 when he went 4.1 frames and surrendered five hits and three runs in an extra-inning loss. He also started SEC games against Florida and Arkansas, and his numbers in those three outings aren’t encouraging: 10.2 IP, a 7.60 ERA, 14 hits, 9 runs (7 earned), 11 strikeouts, 9 walks and two hit batters. Quality time together
There is hope, though.
Koumas started the CWS championship series opener against the Gators last season and logged 5.2 innings with only three hits and one run allowed on the way to the sixth win of his freshman campaign.
That start came 22 days after his previous outing in an NCAA Tournament game against Stetson.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said he wasn’t sure about how the rest of his pitching plans set up, though it’s likely senior left-hander Michael Roth would get the ball in Game 2 if the Gamecocks lose the opener, with freshman Jordan Montgomery in line for a Game 3 start.
Tanner joked that he hasn’t gotten the same level of eagerness from his pitchers after they got a look at the Arizona offensive statistics. The Wildcats are batting .330 as a team (.277 in the CWS), with seven regulars at .324 or better.
“Most of the time I’ll get a guy or two that kind of gets to me and says ‘I really want the ball,’ ” Tanner said. “But since they’ve watched these guys hit, I’m not getting those guys. They’re avoiding me. All the pitchers are going in a different direction when I walk down the hall.
“They probably swing the bats better than anybody and have been for a while. So it’s going to be one of those deals that I don’t know that we can slow them down.”
In a strange twist of fate, the Gamecocks and Wildcats were both placed at the Hilton hotel outside of TD Ameritrade Park, so the two teams – while in opposite brackets – have had regular run-ins with each other throughout the 11-day CWS.
Now the two teams will get a more up-close and personal look at each other.
“The Hilton Hotel Battle Royale: That’s the new name for it,” Roth said.
“Tons of respect for each other and probably the worst part is at some point in this next week, somebody’s going to be celebrating and the other team has to hear it.”
Gamecocks’ outfielder Adam Matthews inadvertently spent some time with an elevator full or UA players last week.
“The other day I rode the elevator with what I would assume was five of their pitchers and there were all a foot and half taller than me,” Matthews said. “They were big boys.”
There certainly doesn’t seem to be any bad blood between the teams – or even the possibility of it – if the pre-series press conference is an indication.
As Roth and Matthews cut up during the media session, the two Wildcats laughed along.
“I think to be honest we might be rooting for these guys just cracking jokes over here,” Arizona shortstop Alex Mejia said. “I feel like I should rooting for these guys, too.”
The three Arizona starting pitchers on tap to take the mound in the championship series have shown the stamina to go deep into games all season.
|Weather check: UA coach Andy Lopez has a quick chat with ironman Kurt Heyer earlier inthe CWS|
That’s partially because of how well Wade, Kurt Heyer and James Farris have pitched and partially because Wildcats’ coach Andy Lopez has been leery of his bullpen at times, saying “Our pen hasn’t been as strong and spectacular as I would like for it to be.” Roth unplugged
The result is that after the three primary starters, no other pitcher has logged more than 38.1 innings this season. Heyer is a true workhorse, averaging just over 8 innings per start with seven complete games. Wade has hung up five full-game efforts and averages 7 innings a game.
Over the last six weeks, UA pitchers have recorded seven complete games in a 16-2 run.
That’s a reversal from Arizona’s star-studded 2008 team when the Wildcats’ staff was back-end-of-the-bullpen heavy.
“Back then I used to tell our starters ‘Just get five (innings) and then grab a towel, grab some Gatorade and wave the towel for the next four innings because these other guys are coming in,’ ” Lopez said. “And we didn’t lose a game that year from the sixth inning on.
“I told our starters about five weeks into this season, ‘I’ll come out and talk to you, but I’m just going to ask you what the weather is like on the mound and tell you what it’s like in the dugout because I’m going back in there and when it’s 125-130 pitches, then I’ll come out and make a pitching change.’ ”
Lopez isn’t worried about fatigue getting the best of his pitchers.
Wade is throwing with a full week of rest, and Farris hasn’t been put to work at all in the CWS. Heyer would have only three days rest if he took the hill in Game 2, but that won’t deter Lopez – considering that Heyer could be on the hill with either a chance to sew up a national championship or keep the Wildcats’ season alive.
“Adrenalin is key,” Lopez said. “You could ask any college pitcher in America would you throw on two days rest if you had a chance to pitch for a national title and I don’t think there’d be one guy that wouldn’t look at you and say ‘Yeah, I’ll go one day if I have to.’ They’re ready to go.”
Roth has carved a niche as one of college baseball’s best big-game pitchers the last few seasons, as well as being recognized as one of the quirkiest players in the game.
The Gamecocks’ personable lefty did nothing to take away from that latter reputation Saturday, especially with his longtime roommate and sidekick Matthews with him.
Among the Roth-isms:
|South Carolina senior Michael Roth: Never at a loss for words|
When a reporter asked about a complex web of Kinesio tape on his left arm, Roth’s immediate response: “That’s a sweet tattoo.”
When he was talking about the novelty of sharing the hotel with Arizona, Roth added his own punch line when he said the only other downside about the Hilton was no free breakfast.
As he reminisced about getting to the national championship series for a third year in a row, Roth said he asked Tanner in a conversation “Can you believe we’re in a position to defend our title with these knucklehead freshmen we have?”
Tanner has credited Roth for loosening him up in the southpaw’s four-year career and he talked another milestone in that process earlier this season.
“We were on the road somewhere and we do curfew, and one of my coaches came back and said ‘I don’t know if I should tell you this, but Michael and Adam were in the bathtub together when I checked the room,’ ” Tanner said as laughter erupted. “And I said ‘I wish you wouldn’t have told me that.’ Of course they did it just because they’d get some attention out of the thing. That’s the way Michael is. He just has a good time.”
And he makes sure everybody around him comes along for the ride.
“Adam was a lot more serious as a freshman but he became roommates with Michael,” Tanner said. “It took him a while, but Michael got the best of him. He listened to Michael instead of me, so he made the adjustment.”
Keep it close
South Carolina has played a school-record 28 one-run games this season, going 15-13. Three of the Gamecocks’ nine NCAA Tournament victories have been settled by one run as has their only loss. Five of USC’s last seven losses have come by a single run, three to teams ranked 13th or higher. Facing the best
“We’ve got a good team, but we’re not the ’27 Yankees,” Tanner said. “I mean we’ve had 28 one-run games.
“We know every at-bat, every inning is going to be crucial. If we play well, we’re going to be in a close game. I said to the guys many times, going into the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, if we’re down by two or three, we’ve got a crack at it. That’s kind of how we’ve played.”
This series marks the first time the Wildcats have tangled with an SEC opponent in the CWS this season, but they are no stranger to the league regarded as the best in the country.
In 2004, Arizona lost its CWS opener to Georgia (8-7), beat Arkansas 7-2 and then dropped another game to the Bulldogs, 3-1. Back in the ’ship
UA played host to Auburn in a three-game series early in the 2012 season, winning 8-1 and 15-4 before dropping the finale 8-3.
Lopez is also intimately familiar with the SEC after coaching at Florida from 1994-2001 and twice guiding the Gators to Omaha.
“There’s nothing like a Friday night in the SEC,” Lopez said. “The SEC is electric.”
South Carolina’s last action against a Pac-12 team was at this stage of the CWS two years ago when the Gamecocks nabbed their first-ever national crown by topping UCLA in two games (2-1, 7-1).
UA hasn’t played for the national championship in 26 seasons, but the Wildcats’ have a history that stacks up with most programs.
This is Arizona’s seventh chance at a national crown and it has split the previous six, winning CWS championships in 1976, 1980 and 1986 under Jerry Kindall after losing in 1956, 1959 and 1963.
Playing a best-of-three series is new for the Wildcats, although in their last two title runs they had to come back through the loser’s bracket and won the final three games of the CWS to finish on top.
Around the horn
UA’s 4-0 shutout against UCLA in the second round was the Wildcats’ first CWS shutout since 1980 against Michigan.
Arizona won its CWS opener for only the second time in its last four trips. The other was 1986, which is also the last time the Wildcats started 3-0.
Since losing a series at then 10th-ranked Oregon on the first weekend of May, Arizona is 16-2 and has batted .325 with 41 two-out RBIs. The Wildcat pitchers own a 2.78 ERA in that span with 109 strikeouts and 43 walks in 165 innings.
Heyer’s 153 innings this season are the third most in UA history behind Scott Erickson (172.2 in 1989( and Gil Heredia (165.1 in 1986). His 13 wins are tied for second in single-season history behind Erickson’s 18 in 1989.
The Wildcats cranked out two home runs in a four-run fourth inning against Florida State in a 10-3 victory on Thursday, the second time they have had two bombs in an inning this season. The other came on March 24 at Oregon State when Bobby Brown and Riley Moore hit back-to-back homers. Brown had one of the jacks against FSU.
UA is 11-3 against left-handed starting pitchers this season. The Wildcats will see at least one southpaw (Roth) and likely a second (Jordan Montgomery) in the championship series if it goes to three games.
Arizona’s 15-hit assault on Florida State on Thursday gives the Cats 10 or more hits in seven of eight NCAA Tournament games.
Down to two for a championship
VIDEO: CWS title preview -- South Carolina
VIDEO: CWS title preview -- Arizona
ON DECK: CWS Day 9