The words "pitching and defense" got mentioned more times than once in Friday morning's preview press conference for the 2011 College World Series.
With the new bats that were introduced to college baseball this season and the new, pitchers-friendly TD Ameritrade Park making its debut for this year's CWS, pitching and defense should continue to be the key to winning in Sunday night's match-up between No. 4 national seed South Carolina and Texas A&M, and most of the CWS field.
"Just like every other team here, we hang our hat on pitching and defense," Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress says.
While the Gamecocks and Aggies have proven they can score enough runs to win, their early Omaha hopes rest on the shoulders of two pitchers who have been outstanding for them all season long.
Junior left-hander Michael Roth, a former situational reliever, has been South Carolina's ace all season long compiling a 13-3 record and a 1.02 ERA. The Golden Spikes Award semifinalist has been even better during the postseason and hasn't given up an earned run in three NCAA tournament starts.
Michael Roth first showed he was capable of being dominant a year ago at the College World Series when he made his first career start against Clemson and surrendered just an earned run in a complete game 5-1 victory. Roth again gave his team a chance to win just days later as he gave up an earned run and earned the win in five innings of the deciding game of the championship series.
Those outings and a productive offseason earned Roth the opening night start this season and he never relinquished his job as the Gamecocks' ace. Even South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner couldn't have guessed how good the move would turn out.
"I thought he would be special but not like this," Tanner said after Roth's win in the Columbia Super Regional. "He continues to just do it. He is a guy that doesn't let a lot of things enter into it. He just goes out and plays. He just tries to go out and help his team win."
Former walk-on and A&M starter Ross Stripling's path to CWS game-one starter had its share of unusual twists too. The right-hander started the season as a reliever and earned three saves before being re-inserted in the starting rotation. Stripling has compiled a 14-2 record and 2.29 ERA and even added another save in the final game of the Aggies' regional.
"He's a great pitcher," fellow starter Michael Wacha said of Stripling. "We wouldn't be near where we are this year without him."
Both teams have shown they can play good defense behind their pitchers as the Aggies have a .976 fielding percentage and the Gamecocks a .973 fielding percentage. While South Carolina has a knack for the spectacular play and has turned a lot of double plays this season, the Gamecocks have also had multiple games where their defense let them down.
The teams also have similar batting averages and team ERAs. South Carolina is hitting .296 with a 2.60 team ERA while A&M is hitting 2.93 with a 2.88 ERA.
"When you start talking about the eight teams that
are here," Childress said. "Everybody can pitch, everybody can play
defense, and everybody's hot or they wouldn't still
History has proven that anything can happen in Omaha, but these two teams aren't likely to change their styles for this game.
Both coaches know that it won't be easy and that it will probably be decided by pitching and defense.
"We know we're not going to scare
anybody and we're not going to blow anybody out," Tanner said.
"That's not who we are. We just play and try to
stay in position and do the things we need to do
and try to win in the end."
South Carolina and Texas A&M play in the final game of the first round of the CWS with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
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