I keep thinking I should be sad. Or maybe disappointed. Or possibly heartbroken. But I’m really none of those things. Of course I didn’t like to see the Gamecocks lose in the CWS finals. I didn’t like it in 2002 either. But just like in 2002, I am so proud of this team for making it so far. In 2002, we lost to a Texas team who was way out of our league. Last night, we lost to an Arizona team that had an unbelievable post-season run. A team who outplayed on us every level. And a team who most certainly deserved to win the National Championship. So Congratulations to the Arizona Wildcats on winning the 2012 CWS National Championship.
Last year, I had the pleasure to put down in words how wonderful life is with the Gamecocks in the world (apologies to Elton John). This year, despite a loss, I can say with certainty that I am so proud of the Gamecocks. This team was not supposed to any of the things they accomplished this year. Remember that 1-5 start in SEC play, including being swept at Kentucky? Showing a resilience that few thought they possessed, this team bounced back by taking 2 of 3 from Vanderbilt and Tennessee, then sweeping Mississippi State, Auburn, and Alabama. This team went from dead last in the SEC to playing in the CWS finals. In spite of the adversity, the Gamecocks kept a 22 post season game win streak going strong until a fateful June meeting with Arkansas. Even after that, South Carolina showed supreme resilience, winning 3 games in 33 hours to earn a hot date with Arizona in the finals.
And then it all came crashing down. Arizona, supremely well-rested and riding the arms of their starting pitchers, an utterly outstanding defense, and an offense that just kept producing, outplayed the Gamecocks on every level. It looked like the Gamecocks might have a shot at redemption on Monday night behind Michael Roth, who started his 8th career game at the CWS, setting a record. Roth kept the ‘Cocks in it, but once again the offense came up short, managing only 1 run on 3 hits. Those kind of offensive numbers won’t win championships. But that’s ok. We all knew it had to end sometime.
Although, I’m not positive that is has ended. As Roth, Christian Walker, Adam Matthews, Matt Price, and Evan Marzilli prepare to head off to their respective big league careers, they will surely take a moment to pass on the wisdom, dugout antics, and championship attitude to those rising up to take their places. As surely as Jordan Montgomery looked like Roth, Jr. on the mound against Arkansas, Tanner English, Joey Pankake, and Grayson Greiner will step up into that same sort of leadership role to carry on the tradition of determination, grit, and winning anyway that those of us in Columbia have come to expect. Yes, as our veteran players transition to the next phases of their respective careers, they will be passing the torch to the ones left behind.
The past three years have been something special. It’s been silly, fun, heart stopping, tear filled (in a good way), and exciting. So thank you to all of the young men who have made up the Gamecocks’ roster for the past three years. To all of you who played your hearts out to do something unprecedented in Carolina sports. To the heroes whose names will live on in South Carolina baseball lore – Whit Merrifield, Jackie Bradley Jr., Scott Wingo, Christian Walker, Michael Roth, Matt Price – and to those whose quiet contributions changed the course of games – Bayler Teal, Charlie Peters, Brady Thomas, Robert Beary, Evan Marzilli, Adam Matthews, Tyler Webb, John Taylor – we thank you. From the very bottom of our hearts, we thank you. Forever to Thee, indeed.
I would strongly suggest you check out this article by Garnet Report as well. A wonderful tribute to the Gamecocks.
In case you missed the memo….Arizona is the real deal. They have one of the best offenses in the country, with 8 players boasting a batting average of over .300, to make for a team average of .331. As a team, they have 23 home runs and have drawn 232 walks. They also have a .969 fielding percentage. Their team ERA is 3.74, a stat that has been inflated due to a not so awesome bullpen. Their starter for tonight’s game, Kurt Heyer, has a 13-2 record and a 2.24 ERA. He’s thrown 153 innings this year, walked 28, and struck out 113. Last night’s starter, Konner Wade, has pitched two complete games in this year’s CWS, has an 11-3 record (prior to last night’s game), 105 Ks and 37 walks. He’s thrown 136.1 innings this season.
Everything in that paragraph points to why the Gamecocks didn’t win last night. Against a team like Arizona, the ‘Cocks need to be flawless, essentially playing the single best series of the entire season. They didn’t have it yesterday. A throwing error from Grayson Greiner (which, btw, does not mean that Coach Tanner should immediately pull him from the game in favor of Dante Rosenberg), a base running blunder by Adam Matthews (whose decision would have paid off if Arizona’s defense wasn’t so good), an error by Joey Pankake (which seemed to me to be more of a bad hop that he couldn’t handle), and a shaky pitching performance from Forrest Koumas (who hadn’t thrown in a month), set the tone for the night. Altogether, these miscues aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. The problem stems from the fact that our offense can’t seem to string hits together to atone for those mistakes.
There were a few high points – Koumas struck out the side in the 2nd, Evan Beal pitched 5 solid innings of relief, and Nolan Belcher (who, in my opinion, is extremely under-used) got out of huge jam in the 8th by quickly retiring the two batters he faced. Greiner had a nice double in the 6th, and ultimately went on to score on a single from Marzilli. But everything else? Mediocre at best.
Not that Arizona is invincible. If the Gamecocks can be patient, work the count, and run up the pitch count, the Wildcats will be forced to go to their bullpen, which hasn’t exactly been rock steady this season. Michael Roth will start for the Gamecocks tonight. If he can get a little run support, and some perfectly executed defense, the Gamecocks will be in a position to win this one. But there is no room for error. At all. As the Wildcats showed last night.
- Fun things to do while your team is losing? Play the Mike Patrick drinking game. Make up your own rules, but some of my favorites are repeated stories like what LB stands for, that Pankake went to IHOP on National Pancake Day, or that Tanner English has excellent speed on the base paths.
- There’s a Fear the Fish song. Check it out here:
- And just to get you pumped up…
Tonight’s game is on ESPN and ESPN3.com at 8 p.m. The Gamecocks will be the home team.
The Gamecocks managed to do the unthinkable, and won three games in 33 hours. First they beat Kent State, then shut out Arkansas. The next night, they went on to play an Arkansas team who wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The Hogs jumped out to an early lead, and for awhile it looked like they were set for a match with Arizona in the final. The Gamecocks finally broke through in the 5th inning on an RBI single from Joey Pankake. Marzilli then walked to load the bases. The Gamecocks tied the game at 2 after Walker walked with the bases loaded. That ended the night for Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale, who threw an outstanding game for the Hogs. Carolina pulled ahead for good in the 7th, as Arkansas once again walked in a run.
This game really could have gone either way. There were more than a few bad calls (for both teams), a tiny strike zone that seemed to change with each pitch, and two teams who desperately wanted to stay in Omaha. Arkansas played an amazing game. The Gamecocks just happened to get lucky enough to win. And so Arkansas heads home and South Carolina is, for the third consecutive year, playing in the CWS final series. This time their opponent is Arizona, a team who has been cruising through the post-season.
Arizona boasts one of the best offenses in the country. South Carolina’s pitching staff is going to need to be flawless to keep the Wildcats’ bats at bay. And the Gamecocks are going to need to find a spark to ignite their own offense if they want to have a chance at repeating again.
It looks like Forrest Koumas will get the start for the Gamecocks tonight. Koumas hasn’t pitched much this year – he battled an elbow injury in the latter part of the season, though he did pitch in the SEC tournament. Koumas has been pretty steady for the Gameocks, and he certainly knows how to pitch in the CWS. Koumas will go up against Konner Wade, who last pitched Sunday against UCLA, when he threw a 5-hit shutout. Between Arizona’s stellar hitting and Wade’s pitching, the Gamecocks may be facing an uphill battle. That, however, hasn’t stopped Carolina yet.