South Carolina begins its quest for an unprecedented third straight national championship this weekend in the College World Series, and there are plenty of reasons to expect them to leave Omaha with the big hardware again. Here are five of them:
* Experience and Expectations: Sure, the Gamecocks have lost a lot of good players over the past two championship seasons, but they’ve also replaced them with some good ones too.
Perhaps more important than the talent, South Carolina has established an expectation among its players to win it all. Juniors on this team don’t know how to do anything else, and the newcomers signed on with the full understanding that being No. 1 is the gold standard for the Garnet & Black.
* Perfect Pitch: In postseason college baseball, it’s not just which team has the best pitching, but rather which one has the best suited staff for the format.
To win the CWS, a team needs a pair of aces, and USC has them in Michael Roth and Conway’s own Colby Holmes. A deep bullpen is beneficial, but the closer is the key to claiming close games and the Gamecocks may have the best in the business in Matt Price.
* Fans and Familiarity: South Carolina has long been known for its passionate fan base, which has been broadened by the Gamecocks became frequent flyers to Omaha.
In addition to attracting the largest fan following at the CWS in recent years, the Gamecocks have also been adopted by Omahans, who make up the vast majority of the attendance. Locals might not be so nice after USC’s bowl-game blowout of their beloved Cornhuskers, but there will be pleny of rooster crows in Omaha.
There’s also something to be said for being there before – staying at the same hotel, taking the same bus route to and from the stadium. For 18 to 22 years old, getting comfortable is half the battle.
* Fear the Fish: Baseball players are superstitious by nature, sporting the same socks and skipping over baselines like their lives depend on it. Silly as it sounds, there’s something to be said for it.
The Gamecocks’ good-luck charm this year comes in the form of a fish that has been sitting, uhm, swimming in the USC dugout for the past two months. The Gamecocks have even taken to paying homage to “Reptar the Siamese Betta” by flashing a hand for a fin on their heads after a big play.
Unless Reptar goes bellyup in Omaha, look for the Gamecocks to draw inspiration from their new “Fear the Fish” mantra. College kids will rally around the craziest things.
* Lucky No. 21: The old saying about “Taking them one game at a time” is not a cliche to the Gamecocks. Unlike every team says it, they actually do it.
USC coach Ray Tanner is one of the best on getting his team to focus on the game at hand and not have a letdown. You don’t win 21 NCAA Tournament games in a row by looking too far down the road, and the Gamecocks are now trained veterans in what it means to take them one at a time 21 times … and counting.
- Photo courtesy of USC Athletics