Tanner, Gamecocks comfortable as underdogs

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Gamecocks are underdogs against No. 1 Florida -- and it's a role they've become quite comfortable in in recent seasons.

Ask Ray Tanner and you'd think the team his Gamecocks face Saturday night has a pitching rotation that's a cross between the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 2000 New York Yankees.

Thursday, Tanner compared the Florida Gators' starters to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Friday, Tanner was back at it again when he compared Florida's Saturday starter Brian Johnson to the MLB's all-time postseason wins leader Andy Pettitte.

"The guy's phenomenal. He's going to be a big leaguer," Tanner said. "He's highly rated. He's a first round draft pick. They've got some really good arms and he certainly is one of them. You've got to figure out how to get some runs if you're going to win."

As tough as the Gators are going to be to score on, it's not going to be any easier for South Carolina to hold them down, according to Tanner.

"I know this ballpark is big, but they can hit them out of the Grand Canyon, so what difference does it make to them?" he asks of Florida sluggers Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker. "What were there, seven home runs in the College World Series last year? Florida may hit seven while they're here this year."

South Carolina has thrived in the underdog role the last two seasons, and despite two straight national championships, Tanner has made it quite clear since the Gamecocks punched their ticket to Omaha that they're not the favorites this time around either.

That title would go to No. 1 Florida, which the Gamecocks play Saturday night at 9 ET in their first game of the College World Series.

On paper, the Gators have certainly been a favorite to win the championship all season as a roster littered with draft picks has been No. 1 for much of the year and is the tournament's No. 1 seed.

And Tanner wants to make sure everyone knows it.

Throughout South Carolina's two national championship seasons, Tanner has always made it a point to not let his team get too high on themselves, while thoroughly relishing the underdog role and workman attitude those teams became known for.

But this week Tanner has seemingly taken a page from the playbook of former South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz -- the Gator hype machine has been in overdrive.

"They're really, really good," Tanner said Thursday. "With Zunino, (shortstop Nolan) Fontana, (Daniel) Pigott in center, they're so good up the middle. Great pitching. ... They're outstanding. If they play as good as they're capable, they're almost impossible to beat. We'll have to play as good as you have to play to beat them."

The Gators proved that this year when they beat the defending champs three out of four times.

But there also may be some method to Tanner's constant praising.

Despite the similarly stacked roster the Gators featured last season, South Carolina took two of three games from them during them during the regular season, and then won two straight against them during the CWS Finals.

In the past 12 meetings between the two teams, each team has six wins. And the one game South Carolina won this year? The Gamecocks were able to hold the Gators down with the combination of starter Michael Roth -- Saturday's starter -- and closer Matt Price -- who if Tanner has it his way will be the only other pitcher to throw for Carolina Saturday.

Past all the talk. And past all the draft picks. Lies the fact that the Gamecocks have been pretty good in Omaha as of late -- even against the vaunted Gators. And that's something that Tanner will no doubt tell his team as they get ready to take their best shot at winning a third straight title.

"We know we're going to have to play really well, we're the underdogs," Tanner said. "But it's still baseball at the end of the day and if we can get one to fall or get or get a bloop or something, and get a tremendous pitching performance from Roth, then our chances are better. You can't go into a game against the Gators and not be at your best and expect to win, and that's what we're going to try to do."

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