Gamecocks Face Tough Opposition in Omaha
As your resident baseball fanatic, I’ll be updating y’all on all things Omaha/CWS for the next two weeks. While I’m obviously going to be focused on the Gamecocks, don’t be surprised if you see a few words about the other 7 teams that are there. I think it’s important for you to know exactly what the Gamecocks are up against, and that a repeat of last year’s CWS title is by no means a lock, nor will be it be easy to achieve.
The Gamecocks are en route to Omaha. They left earlier this morning, hopefully getting a great send-off from a large crowd (I, unfortunately, couldn’t go….work, and all that). Among those heading to Omaha? Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley hasn’t played in a game since April, and certainly wasn’t supposed to be back at all this season. But, JBJ is nothing if not a fighter, and got himself into position to be available, mostly on the defensive side, just in time for the CWS. Though Carolina has certainly done well enough despite JBJ’s absence, his presence will absolutely make a difference. Maybe not in the actual score of the game, but certainly in the team’s morale. Coming back this quickly and ahead of schedule can only be inspirational to the team as the Gamecocks try to repeat.
Bracket One (aka, the non-Gamecocks bracket)
Teams: #3 North Carolina, #6 Vanderbilt, #3 Florida, and #7 Texas. All of these teams were national seeds (hence the numbers in front of their names), meaning that on paper this is the tougher bracket. I think I agree with that assessment.
Matchups: UNC & Vandy kick things off at 2 p.m. on Saturday (June 18) (for a full schedule, go here). Florida & Texas play Saturday night at 7 p.m. I like Vandy and Florida to come out the winners. Partly because I’d LOVE to see these two teams pitted against each other in the CWS, but mostly because, while both UNC & Texas are solid and could make the games close, neither team is fully prepared for the completeness of both Florida & Vandy. Each team has incredibly solid pitching, and, at one point, each team boasted the SEC’s leading hitter. They have potent offenses, solid defenses, and the drive and desire to win. Especially Vandy, who is making it’s very first CWS appearance. Since the CWS is double elimination, I think UNC goes 2-and-out, Vandy loses to Florida, beats Texas, and then has to play Florida twice to determine this bracket’s winner.
Winner: I think Florida wins this side. It kills me to pick a team who wears any bit of orange, but I think in the end they edge Vandy out. It’ll be a tight game, probably determined by one run. It’ll be a low scoring game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the winning team scores early on and then it’s a true pitcher’s duel for the remaining 7 or 8 innings.
Bracket Two (aka, the bracket featuring your South Carolina Gamecocks)
Teams: #1 Virginia, California, #4 South Carolina, Texas A&M. Though this bracket doesn’t look as tough as bracket 1, don’t be fooled. Cal was the 3 seed in the regional, defeated #8 national seed & regional host Rice, and then took down a tough 2 seeded Baylor team to win the Houston regional. They went on to win their Super against a Dallas Baptist team who cruised through a regional against TCU, Oklahoma, and Oral Roberts. And Cal didn’t just beat DBU. They shut them out in game 1, and won game 2 6-2. Cal is a team of fighters, and it would be foolish to discount them. The same could be said about A&M. The Aggies cruised through their regional, and then took on #5 national seed Florida State in their super. I don’t know if you saw any of the Tallahassee super, but it was an insane display of offense. A&M won 2 out of 3, smashing FSU in the final, 11-2.
Matchups: UVA and Cal open up this bracket on Sunday (June 19) at 2. pm. USC and A&M play Sunday night at 7 p.m. I like Cal and USC to come out on top in the first round. Even though UVA is the #1 seed, I don’t think it’s a ranking they necessarily deserve. They struggled in their super against UC-Irvine, pushing the series into 3 games and barely pulling off a 9th inning comeback. I just don’t think their luck will hold for too much longer. Plus Cal has a ton of momentum. A&M might have an incredible offense, but they’ll be going up against Michael Roth (at least that’s what I’m assuming…starting pitchers haven’t been announced yet, but that’s what makes sense). As long as Roth comes out and pitches like, well, Michael Roth, USC is in excellent shape to take game one. Ultimately, I think UVA goes 2-and-out (A&M’s bats will prove too much for them, despite their superior pitching). I think USC will beat Cal, but then Cal will lose to A&M. The A&M/USC rematch will go to the Aggies, but in the deciding game, USC’s bullpen will win it. The pitching for that game will likely be pieced together, but I would imagine that Tyler Webb would get the start for hopefully 4 innings, and then Harper, Mata, Taylor, and Price, and maybe even Steven Neff, depending on how our outfielders are looking, will close it out.
Winner: I really like South Carolina to win this bracket. And yes, I am knocking on wood and will be turning around 3 times and spitting as soon as this post is finished. I don’t ever pick USC to win because I’m superstitious, but in this case, the statistics are there to back me up in my choice.
So What Does This Mean?
If things go the way I have predicted (and let’s be honest, I didn’t do so hot on my regional & super regional picks, but I’m still more reliable than your local weatherman), it leaves us with a Florida/USC championship. Two SEC teams in the final? Awesome. Two of the 3 SEC East Co-Champions (although, since USC did take 2 of 3 from both Florida and Vandy, the honor should be ours alone…silly lack of tie-breaking rules in baseball) playing against each other? Fabulous. A rematch of a regular season series that was well fought on both sides and all kinds of dramatic? Perfect. This is the stuff that baseball fans dream about. Two teams with solid pitching, potent offenses, and stellar defenses. Both teams will have to play flawlessly in order to win. This is where JBJ’s return figures in so much. Florida may have the SEC player of the year in catcher Mike Zunino, but Carolina has players who beat the odds (JBJ’s early return), an almost unbeatable pitching ace in Michael Roth (who, incidentally, pitched a complete game in the CWS last year to propel Carolina forward), a terrifying late-inning pitching team in Taylor and Price, a vocal team leader in Scott Wingo, and a solid lineup of scrappy players who will do just about anything to win.
Since the CWS came to Omaha in 1950, there has been a repeat champion in almost every decade: Texas in 1949 & 1950, Southern California in 1970, 71, 72, 73, & 74, Stanford in 1987 & 1988, LSU in 1996 & 97, and Oregon State in 2006 & 07. Can the Gamecocks become the sixth team to accomplish this feat? I think so. But it certainly won’t be an easy journey.