Teams walk tightrope to national championship

Starting tomorrow night the final chapter in Rosenblatt Stadium history will be written as it hosts the last College World Series final in its storied history. South Carolina and UCLA will play beginning at 6:30 in a best-of-three series that will determine the top team in college baseball. But to get to this point, both teams have had to survive moments on the brink of elimination.

For South Carolina and UCLA, the two teams that will meet beginning Monday for the national championship, the run through the playoffs and to the final series at Rosentblatt Stadium has been anything but smooth.

Both teams have been within one out of elimination, facing an offseason of questions and "what ifs" that was prevented by clutch hits in the biggest of moments.

For UCLA, it was a two out home run from Tyler Rahmatulla kept the Bruins alive in the Super Regional round against Cal State Fullerton, and they went on to win the final game of that round before moving on to Omaha.

In South Carolina's case, an elimination game against Oklahoma nearly went against the Gamecocks, but a single from Jackie Bradley Jr. with two outs and two strikes tied the game before Brady Thomas won it two batters later.

Both teams have moved through the College World Series with just one loss, USC's coming in its first game against Oklahoma, and UCLA's in the first game against TCU with a chance to advance to the championship final on the line.

After late season struggles against Florida and an 0-2 trip to the SEC Tournament, Coach Ray Tanner said he knew his team would have to buckle down to stay alive as they continued in the postseason.

"But we took the mentality that, you know, we've got to win some games late," stated Tanner. "We're going to have to win some close games. We're going to have to get a big hit. We're going to have to bloop one in or make something happen. We played like that a lot, certainly going down here to the last pitch and the season being over, and we were able to survive that."

Coach John Savage of UCLA also said his team also had to show a great deal of poise to survive against long odds and make a run in the College World Series.

"Well, we feel the same way. Our backs were against the wall," noted Savage. "So we were literally one out away from being two and out in the Super Regionals. And I never sensed any quit. I didn't sense any panic. I didn't sense any, you know, over the season being over. The guys just kept on battling. So it's a credit to the character of our team that we're here."

Not only did South Carolina have to battle through a tough side of the bracket that featured the nation's #1 seed in Arizona State, but also talented squads in Oklahoma and Clemson. The Gamecocks also made it harder on themselves by losing the opening game and falling into the loser's bracket for the fourth time under Tanner.

But an 11-4 shellacking of the Sun Devils propelled to Gamecocks to another meeting with Oklahoma, which was won thanks in large part to the late heroics of the Gamecock bats. After that, it was two straight wins over the in-state Clemson Tigers to move on to meet the Bruins for the title.

"It's just been amazing," said Gamecock centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "From day one, even starting out with the loss and having to climb back uphill, my team never gave up, we never gave in. We got to where we are. And we're going to try to win a national championship now."

As with any title, it takes hard work, and of course some good luck, to reach the final round. But Coach Savage took time to reflect on the hurdles that each team has overcome to reach these last three games.

"Certainly we went through tremendous challenges, as did South Carolina, to get here," said Savage. "I think any team that gets here, the final eight, has earned it. To get to the final two, I think you've really earned it. South Carolina loses the first game and comes back and is in the position they're in, says a lot about certainly their character and their players. So, you know, we're very fortunate to be here."

And now the tournament is down to two teams, teams from different coasts and conferences, but with one common goal: to bring home a national title.

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