NCAA Men’s Baseball National Championship Series Preview
It's an Eastern Division showdown for the national championship at the neutral site in Omaha, Nebraska. Let us get you ready for Monday night's action. -Mark McLeod, ESPN Radio
South Carolina (53-14)
Florida and South Carolina became the fourth and fifth programs, respectively, to appear in multiple College World Series Championship Series Finals. They join Texas (2004-05, 09), Oregon State (2006-07), and North Carolina (2006-07) as the only schools to achieve that feat. Florida will be making its’ second national championship appearance. The Gators lost to Texas in 2005. This will be the fifth time in school history that the Gamecocks will compete for the national title in NCAA Division I baseball. Carolina also played for the title in 1975, 1977, 2002 and 2010.
South Carolina established a new NCAA Tournament record (Regional, Super Regional, and CWS) with its 3-2 victory over Virginia. They now lay claim to 14 consecutive victories dating back to last season's National Championship. The Gamecocks broke the mark of 13 they shared with Southern Cal (1972-74) and LSU (1997-98) as programs to win 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament games. South Carolina is now 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament and is the only remaining unbeaten team in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Florida is undefeated at the College World Series (3-0). The Gators have won 12 of 14 games in the post-season. If Florida wins the series, the Gators would be the first FBS team in the Southeastern Conference to win national championships in football, basketball, and baseball. Only Ohio State and Michigan can lay claim to those titles. The Gators record over the past two seasons under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is 100-34 (.750), which is the best two-year mark in Florida baseball history.
Overall: South Carolina leads the series 38-29
Last 10 games: Florida has won 6 of 10
2011: South Carolina 2-1
The “Beasts of the East” will play for the 2011 NCAA Men’s Baseball National Championship beginning Monday night at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Florida will get the opportunity to knock off defending national champion, South Carolina.
The CWS has played out like the Eastern Division race did this season with Florida continuing its’ dominance over a tremendous Vanderbilt team. The Gators were victorious in five of the six games the clubs played this season. Most importantly, Florida won each and every one of those post-season games.
Now, Florida fans are hoping for change. South Carolina took two of three from Florida in Gainesville this year. Unlike, the Gators and Commodores, Florida and South Carolina haven’t faced each other in the post-season.
I’ve seen both of these teams play this season and talent aside, the one thing they possess that makes them championship caliber clubs is desire and focus. They don’t get rattled when they fall behind. They stay within themselves and try to make the most of opportunities. If they fail to convert, they will come right back at you and make another run. In that respect, they really are a coaches’ dream. If you take a moment and reflect on some of the greatest teams in history regardless of sport, you no doubt understand the rarity and what it means to have this chemistry.
-Mark McLeod, ESPN Radio
Did a 13-inning marathon take the wind out of the sails for the Gamecocks or provide them with a huge boost of confidence? It could actually be that both questions are the correct answer. It played ugly, but the winner goes to the national championship series. It certainly didn’t do them any favors, physically. There was no run production in those late innings. In fact, there were only two innings in which the gamecocks scored against an outstanding Virginia team. It didn’t help the Gamecocks to run up the innings on the pitching staff. It was seemingly a game of who can make the least costly mistakes.
South Carolina ace Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98) threw 124 pitches on June 19th in the Gamecocks opening round 5-4 victory over Texas A&M. Roth came back to pitch on just four days rest, starting against Virginia. He threw 91 pitches in seven innings. There is no question that 215 pitches is an awful lot of work in six days. I would think that South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner would give Roth the start on Tuesday night against Florida.
The question now becomes who get the series start on Monday night for Carolina?
Tanner has options and questions to consider. Do you trust freshman Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.07) to shoulder the load in the series opener on Monday night? Koumas had the most success against the Gators of any SC starter with regards to the stats line. And remember that game was in Gainesville. The right-hander located his fastball and slider very well for six innings, surrendering just two hits and no earned runs in the second game. Reliever Matt Price came on and gave-up a home on his very first pitch to Kamm Washington. Florida won that game 2-1 with a superb performance by Hudson Randall, who spun a complete game five-hitter in which he did not allow an earned run.
The South Carolina skipper might opt to go with sophomore Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.69) who was on the squad last year and experienced the Gamecocks national title run. Holmes started the second CWS game (winner’s bracket) against Virginia. He went 4.1 innings, allowing four hits and just one earned run.
Senior right-hander John Taylor (7-1, 1.17) came on in relief of Holmes and picked up the win in the Gamecocks 7-1 win over the Cavs. He appeared in two of the three meetings in Gainesville and did not allow a run in two innings.
South Carolina has leaned on reliever Matt Price (7-3, 1.91) in the CWS. He picked-up the win while throwing 95 pitches in the Gamecocks 3-2 13-inning marathon over Virginia.
"It really has been amazing," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "I just - I admire these guys and the players we've had the last couple of years. Their work ethic, their desire to play, to win - they show up and go every day and we've been very fortunate. These (players) do it between the lines. And that's just hard - it's so hard - and I coached for a long time and was unable to get to Omaha as a head coach and then we were able to be here for a few times. It's something you never take for granted. We played in the Finals last year and we get back there again. It's really hard to explain. I'm grateful. These guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit. They've been able to perform in the most difficult circumstances. We've had some outstanding players at different times step up. It's all I can say, really. I'm just ecstatic to be part of this group."
The development of the Florida bullpen has been the most significant improvement since the hiring of head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. I remember my first conversation with Sully after his introductory press conference with the Florida media. I was curious to get his assessment on the pitching staff. While, he couldn’t elaborate at that time just arriving on campus, Sully knew that Florida needed more arms on the pitching staff and an across the board improvement on the staff talent level.
I’d say that Sully has accomplished his goal. Winning a national championship would cement it.
Right-hander Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.24) will get the start for the Gators on Monday night. As I pointed out earlier, Randall overwhelmed the Gamecocks in Gainesville. He should have been named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive week, but did not receive the award because South Carolina took the series.
If it were left up to me, and let’s thank God that it’s isn’t, I’d go with Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43) in game two. Whitson was very effective against the Gamecocks in Gainesville. He threw 73 pitches in five innings and allowed just two hits and one earned run. The bullpen couldn’t hold Florida’s 3-0 lead and Carolina took the rubber match 4-3 to win the series.
If they have to go to a championship game three, O’Sullivan would then have a decision of his own to make. Does he go with Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.66) who struggled against South Carolina earlier in the year allowing six earned runs in 5.1 innings or does he call on Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.71) who pitched Florida into the championship series with a terrific outing on Friday night? I think that’s a no-brainer once again. I go with the Panda. He’s been outstanding in the post-season and appears to be hitting stride pitching just 63 innings this season.
Steven “Paco” Rodriguez (4-2, 1.75) was tremendous against in the Gators first game against Vanderbilt. He also had some success in relief against South Carolina earlier this year. When Rodriguez has his devastating sinker ball moving well, he can prove to be hitless. His sinker can really be a sick pitch to try and tame. Couple the sinker with his 90-91 fastball and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Florida will have everybody ready in the bullpen. I’m sure Nick Maronde, Tommy Toledo, and Austin Maddox will be eager to prove that they are better than they’re most recent outing against Vanderbilt. Greg Larson has given Florida the stopgap they’ve needed all season long.
With a team built mainly around top-notch pitching, the South Carolina Gamecocks don’t boast the eye-popping offense of a Vanderbilt or Florida. But while they won’t overpower anyone with their offensive numbers, they are plenty good enough to get the job done.
The Gamecocks are batting just a shade under .300 (.295) on the year and are averaging 6.1 runs per game with a team total of 45 home runs. They rarely threaten opponents with speed on the base paths, having stolen just 40 bags on the season (58 attempts), the lowest in the SEC.
While South Carolina has yet to hit a four-bagger in Omaha, they haven’t allowed that to affect their offensive output, plating 15 runs in three games against Texas A&M and Virginia.
The Gamecock lineup is mainly powered by first baseman Christian Walker. Walker leads his team in almost every statistical category, including batting average (.355), runs (63), hits (93), doubles (20), home runs (10), and RBI (62). So far in the CWS, Walker is 4-for-14 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI.
While South Carolina may not always steam roll its opponents, they have shown a penchant for winning with timely hits and dramatic walk-off victories. In fact, the Gamecocks have won two of their three CWS games in their last at-bat, and three of their last four if you go back to last year’s title victory.
The Florida Gators have without a doubt the deepest, most powerful line-up present in Omaha. Their 68 home runs this season (almost 20 more than any other College World Series team) speaks volumes by itself, but the production doesn’t end there.
Florida is hitting .309 as a team this year, scoring 6.5 runs per game, and has recorded an SEC high 142 doubles. In fact, Florida has collected 1113 total bases, almost 100 more than the next closest SEC team, the powerful Vanderbilt Commodores.
The Gators depth is unlike any other team. Anyone in any spot in the order, one through nine, is a threat. There are six players with at least 150 at-bats who are batting over .300 on the season. Five players have 40 or more RBI, and two more have 29 or more. Seven players have at least five home runs.
Florida doesn’t have blazing speed, and due to the fact that they receive production from all across the line-up, the Gators run less than other teams. They have taken just 56 bases in 88 attempts.
So far in three games in Omaha, the Gators have scored 17 runs, consistent with their season average, against the excellent pitching staffs of Texas and Vanderbilt. Florida has one official home run, and should be credited with one more but designated hitter Brian Johnson’s long ball was incorrectly ruled a double.
Catcher Mike Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year, is the unquestioned leader of the Florida squad, batting .366 with 73 runs scored, 22 doubles, 18 home runs, and 66 RBI. Outfielder Preston Tucker isn’t far behind, hitting at a .313 clip, with 55 runs scored, 23 doubles, 15 home runs, and 74 RBI. The dynamic duo receive plenty of support from the rest of the team as well.
Zunino has been quiet in the CWS, but Tucker has stayed hot, going 4-for-14 with 2 runs scored, 6 RBI, and two game-winning hits to his name, including a home run. Additionally, outfielder Daniel Pigott and third baseman Cody Dent have contributed from the bottom of the order, combining to go 8-for-18 with six runs scored, two RBI, and three walks.
-Jacob Friedman, ESPN Radio
Florida played errorless baseball in the 6-4 bracket one championship win over Vanderbilt. It was the first game in which they’d played without an error in Omaha after committing two errors in the opening game and one error in the second game.
The Gators came to Omaha with a .975 fielding percentage. They struggled with errors in the South Carolina series, uncharacteristically committing four errors in Gainesville. Two of those errors were at third base. Hopefully, Cody Dent can provide Florida with better defensive play in this series versus the Gamecocks then the Gators experienced in Gainesville.
Catcher Mike Zunino has allowed just one stolen base in the CWS, while picking off yet another runner. On the season, opponents have stolen 29 bases at a .725 success rate.
South Carolina has committed three errors in Omaha with those occurring at first, shortstop, and third base. The Gamecocks had a .974 fielding percentage this season. Shortstop Peter Mooney has 14 errors on the season.
Opponents have stolen three bases in the College World Series on South Carolina catcher Robert Beary. He has allowed 15 stolen bases on the season with the opposition having a success margin of .653. Like most teams, Florida will play small ball and does not possess speed on the basepaths. The Gators have had three runners caught stealing in four attempts in the CWS.