Sooners Illustrated: This USC team has won 19 straight NCAA Tournament games. What is it going to take for OU to be the team to finally break that streak that ironically started with a 3-2 USC win over the Sooners back in the 2010 College World Series?
Wes Mitchell: I think the easy answer is: some late game magic. That winning streak was built on a never-say-die attitude and a believe within this team that it would win every game it plays. The cast of characters have changed since that 2010 group but the attitude has not. Part of it comes from the team's leader, ace Michael Roth, who has one of the most unique personalities you'll ever see. He keeps things extremely light in the dugout and these teams just seem to be very comfortable in close games as they've played a ton of them in the last three years.
I have no doubt that the games this weekend are going to be extremely close. The team that plays the best in the clutch -- that means clutch pitching and big hits in the late innings -- will be heading to Omaha, in my opinion.
SI: During that 19-game winning streak, the Gamecocks have emerged as back-to-back champions and will defend their title again this year. What is different about this team compared to the previous two?
WM: A lot is different. Gone are standouts Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Scott Wingo, plus countless other contributors from the last two seasons -- the Gamecocks replaced their starting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and an outfielder from last year's squad. There was a definite learning curve as USC started out 1-5 in SEC play as its freshmen and JUCO transfers learned on the job. But this group got better as the season went along and reeled off 13 straight SEC wins at one point.
This group hasn't been as good defensively, particularly up the middle, as the two national championship teams. Wingo plus shortstops Bobby Haney (2010) and Peter Mooney (2011) had a knack for making the spectacular play. USC didn't have that this year, especially early in the year, but shortstop Joey Pankake and second baseman Chase Vergason have played extremely well as of late. You could argue that there's actually more potential at the plate on this year's team than last year's -- but because much of that potential is within young talent, USC can be sporadic at times -- sometimes a great offense shows up, while other times, they've struggled at the plate.
SI: OU has some powerful arms in its arsenal, including starting pitchers Jordan John, Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton, plus 100 mph hurler Damien Magnifico. How do the USC hitters match up against that solid rotation?
WM: That remains to be seen. It seems like the approaches at the plate have gotten better as the season went along, and in a bit of a statistical anomaly, USC actually hit better in SEC play than it did during the midweek against lesser competition. I'd expect the USC hitters to have competitive at-bats, but Oklahoma obviously has a strong pitching staff and I'm expecting these games to be low scoring, so I doubt either team will have a whole heck of a lot of success at the plate overall.
SI: Who is the one batter in the Gamecock lineup that can really pose problems for that staff this weekend?
WM: That's got to be Christian Walker. Joey Pankake, as a freshman, is a great natural hitter. Evan Marzilli can do it all as a solid hitter with speed. LB Dantzler has the most power on the team. And Adam Matthews has been hot lately. But there's no doubt that the one hitter Oklahoma will decide not to let beat them is Walker. He hits third in the Carolina lineup and has consistently been the Gamecocks best hitter for the last two seasons.
Walker has more power than he lets on as he takes a patient approach at the plate, isn't scared to take walks and often hits line drives rather than trying to power up and hit bombs. But he is very capable of hitting the long ball and often hits them in clutch situations. Walker has a clutch home run in the eighth inning of each of the last two Super Regional-clinching games for Carolina. Look for Oklahoma to make someone else beat them.
SI: USC catcher Grayson Greiner missed regional play with a torn lateral meniscus. What is his status this weekend and how will that potentially affect the Gamecocks?
WM: Greiner suffered the injury last Wednesday around 4:30 in the afternoon, had surgery by 7:30 the next morning, and was activated by South Carolina to play this weekend yesterday. How much Greiner will play is the question. He almost definitely will not be ready to catch, but could serve as a designated hitter or pinch hitter depending on how the knee finds.
Greiner is only hitting .236 but does have 6 home runs and the potential to do much more damage than that. He was named a freshman All-American and became the first freshman in USC history to be named to Team USA. His replacement, Dante Rosenberg, was outstanding behind the plate in the Regional, but it appears Oklahoma likes to run from time to time, and Rosenberg doesn't possess the rifle of an arm nor the reputation for throwing out would-be base-runners that Greiner has. Rosenberg should be just fan as far as handling the pitchers and blocking pitches in the dirt, but it will be interesting to see what happens if Oklahoma gets baserunners and tries to steal a lot.
Wes Mitchell is the Publisher of the South Carolina Scout site, Gamecock Anthem.