Notebook: Matthews deserving of MVP honor

Adam Matthews has had a rocky senior season at times, but on the big stage Matthews came through with three sensational games to earn him MVP honors. There was another Gamecock that was just as valuable. Plus, did a coach bite off more than he could chew weeks before the Super Regional was determined?

It's fair to say that the 2012 baseball season has been a bit of a disappointment for Adam Matthews. The senior captain was one of three position starters to return from the 2011 National Championship team and was expected to be one of the clutch performers on the team.

"It's been a frustrating year at times," Matthews said following a double-header against Alabama earlier in the year. "The only thing you can do is work through it."

For the season, Matthews is hitting just .241 and has batted all over the line-up. He has five homeruns and has driven in 25 runs. Like any good hitter, Matthews is constantly trying to find new ways to improve his swing, even as late as the last week of the season.

"The only thing I really (recently) changed – probably before the LSU series – was I opened up my front foot a little bit. I was getting jammed on fastballs in(side) and I just couldn't get my hands to them."

Matthews went 5-for-13 on the weekend with six RBI and made the final out of the Regional-clinching win against Clemson on Sunday. The performance was easily enough to earn him the MVP award.

"It's an honor" Matthews said. "My four years here have been a roller coaster ride. Playing what will be my last regional, it's an honor to be named MVP. Playing out there with this team and this coaching staff is a dream come true. I grew up a Carolina fan my whole life, so to have an opportunity to play here and be on the field versus in the stands has been a blessing."

After being injured and not being able to contribute in the postseason run in 2011, Matthews took advantage of his first weekend of NCAA Tournament action at full strength.

"Past couple years, it's been frustrating not being able to be a part of the postseason," Matthews said. "Last year, I was hurt. This year, it's an honor to be able to play in front of our fans at home and be able to contribute in a big way. It was a lot of fun."

He was no ordinary back-up

One of the keys of building a successful program is building quality depth. Injuries are a part of every sport and baseball is no different. Last Wednesday starting catcher Grayson Greiner suffered a torn meniscus and was left off the roster for the Regional. Patrick Harrington was also left off the roster so it was all up to Dante Rosenberg to fill in.

"Dante's been around for a while and he catches most of our (bull)pens," Tyler Webb said. "I feel like him and Grayson (Greiner) are so great at catching our staff. It's almost like we didn't skip a beat. I think he did a great job."

Carolina certainly didn't miss a beat. Michael Roth struggled with command in his outing Saturday night, throwing multiple balls in the dirt to keep runners from advancing or scoring. His performance drew praises from many and, despite struggling offensively, he earned votes from several as All-Regional catcher.

"He was outstanding," Tanner said. "He did better than filling in nicely; he was spectacular back there. He blocked and he received and he's a low-target guy. He's a guy that got to play early, didn't get much time late (in the season). When he was called upon he was special. I told him when he was leaving that he was very impressive. Now this week we'll work on his hitting."

Youth or experience?

Tanner had to make a decision last week on who to start for the first game against Manhattan, having already deciding to hold Roth for the second game. Tanner went with experience and it paid off. Colby Holmes got the start and was four outs away from a potential no-hitter. A two-out single in the eighth ended his hopes and a thunderstorm in the bottom of the eighth ended his bid for a complete game. Still, Holmes ended up going eight innings of one-hit ball.

The other option for Friday night was Jordan Montgomery, who would end up getting Sunday's start. The freshman from Sumter was stellar, pitching 6.2 innings and gave up only two earned runs to pick up the win.

From day one, Tanner has had to find the right blend of young guys and veteran guys. It has been an adventure that at times has seen failure, but when it counts the most everyone is coming through. Whether it be the veteran Holmes or freshman Montgomery, senior Matthews coming through with two RBI in the Saturday win over Clemson or freshman Joey Pankake delivering the game-tying run and then scoring the game-winning in the 12th off an LB Dantzler single – who is also a newcomer as a JUCO transfer.

"We've grown up a lot during the season," Tanner said. "We had some veteran guys, but a lot of young guys listened to the older guys and tried to work together and get better to become a pretty good team at the end of the year."

Coach Tanner, who has been in the game for many years, admitted that the situation was unique having six new position players and still get to this point in the season.

"It was probably harder for me than for them," Tanner said. "I've been in this for a long time but I'm probably not as patient as I should be. It was very frustrating in the beginning and I probably didn't help the situation, was probably a little too hard on them. I was trying to help them but I probably wasn't doing a good enough job in the beginning. They stuck with it. The older guys were there for them. They knew we were going to need some of those younger guys to get to this point."

Close calls

Carolina's winning streak in the NCAA Tournament has been quite impressive. What has been even more impressive in the 19-game winning streak is the amount of one-run games the Gamecocks have managed to win. They have won nine games decided by one run, including three against Clemson and two in its two National Championship series.

"I couldn't tell you many things that have happened in the past," Tanner said. "I know we're always in these (one run games); we're not a team that will throw up a crooked number too much offensively so we have to pitch and play defense and hope to win one late. That's sort of the way we've been. The bats have changed and you don't really run away from people too much anymore."

Be careful what you wish for

There's an old saying be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. On May 23rd, Oklahoma head coach Sunny Golloway was quoted on Oklahoma's Scout site that he wanted to come to Columbia.

"When we were in Omaha in 2010, we didn't get a break in a 12- or 13-inning ball game or we might have eliminated South Carolina," Golloway said. "They've gone on to win two, back-to-back, national titles. We're the last team to defeat them in the NCAA Tournament. So, you know, I'm kinda hoping they'll send us to South Carolina. Nothing against Ray Tanner, but we're the last team to beat them in the NCAA Tournament."

Golloway must have conveniently forgotten that Carolina loaded the bases and were an Adrian Morales base hit away from potentially taking the lead in the ninth inning of the first game, or the fact that Tyler Ogle led off the top of the 12th with a homerun to give Oklahoma the lead in the second game before the Brady Thomas single that won the contest for the Gamecocks.

It was a week late, but Golloway got his wish. The Sooners are heading to Columbia. Is it a decision that he will soon regret?


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