College : : Story
Sunday, June 26, 2011

National title comes down to two

Kendall Rogers        
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OMAHA, Neb. – The only thing better than winning a national title is winning back-to-back national titles.

That’s precisely what South Carolina will try to do when it faces Florida in the College World Series Championship Series Monday through Wednesday this week. The Gators, meanwhile, are attempting to win the program’s first national title.

“I was reflecting with my coaches about the teams we’ve played throughout the season and how good they were. It’s hard to advance, so [playing for the national title] is a tremendous accomplishment for both of our universities,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “There’s no greater place to be this time of year than Omaha.”

“I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be a great series, though it won’t be easy,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They’re playing extremely well and don’t give you a whole lot. We’re going to have to be on top of our game if we want to have any success. It’s just ironic for two SEC teams to go head-to-head in Omaha.”

The Gamecocks wouldn’t have it any other way, but they’ve had quite the exciting road to the title series. They defeated Texas A&M on a walk-off hit in the CWS opener, while they defeated Virginia the first time around in dominant fashion and beat the Cavaliers in the second meeting using heroics to get the job done.

Florida has had a less stressful road to the title series. The Gators made easy work of Texas in their CWS opener before controlling Vanderbilt for much of the game in a 3-1 win over the Commodores in the first meeting. The second meeting is one the Gators won despite momentum shifting back and forth between they and the Commodores.

The Gators and Gamecocks have met three times this season, with all three meetings coming in a three-game series in Gainesville, Fla. The Gamecocks won the series – the second weekend of SEC regular season play – in impressive fashion.

South Carolina and Florida meet a final time this season to determine the national title.

We take an in-depth look at the highly anticipated title series.

CWS Championship Series: Who has the edge?
Starting pitching

Both the Gamecocks and Gators enter the title series with solid weekend rotations, with left-handed pitcher Michael Roth leading the way for the Gamecocks, and efficient right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall leading the way for the Gators.

Florida, though, has the edge in this department with other starters, right-hander Karsten Whitson and left-hander Alex Panteliodis throwing well in Omaha.

Randall has made one start in the College World Series, and that was against Texas. He allowed just one earned run in 6 2/3 innings and struck out five batters. When Randall faced the Gamecocks earlier this season, he allowed just a run on five hits in a complete game performance.

Whitson allowed a run on four hits in 4 2/3 innings in his only start in Omaha, while Panteliodis allowed a run on three hits in six innings in a tremendous performance against hard-hitting Vanderbilt. Overall, Whitson has a 2.43 ERA in 92 2/3 innings and Panteliodis has a 3.71 ERA in 63 innings.

Against the Gamecocks earlier this season, Whitson allowed a run on two hits in five innings, while Panteliodis hasn’t faced them.

Though it’s unlikely he’d start over Panteliodis in the finale, also keep an eye on left-hander Brian Johnson, who has yet to pitch in Omaha and has a 3.66 ERA in 78 2/3 innings.

Looking at the Gamecocks, they always feel fantastic when lefty Michael Roth is on the mound. Roth, as expected, has been tremendous in Omaha with a fabulous 0.63 ERA in two starts with teams hitting him at an incredibly low .170 clip.

Other starting pitchers include right-handers Colby Holmes and Forrest Koumas.

Holmes was fantastic in his only start in Omaha against Virginia, allowing a run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings. He has a 2.08 ERA in Omaha and overall has a 3.69 ERA in 85 1/3 innings. Koumas, meanwhile, could be the key to the series.

With South Carolina going 3-0 in its side of the bracket, Koumas has yet to start a game in Omaha, something that obviously is a concern for Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner. Koumas, though, has a 3.07 ERA in 67 1/3 innings and certainly has the potential to put together a fantastic start. The Gamecocks are in great shape if Koumas can outduel Randall in the series opener.

Against the Gators this season, Roth allowed two runs on 10 hits in 8 1/3 innings, while Holmes allowed no runs and just a hit in three innings of relief work. Koumas, a key statistic to remember, allowed just a run (none earned) on two hits in six innings.


Way back during fall workouts, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan hailed his bullpen as the strength of his team. The unit, he said, was loaded with a plethora of outstanding arms. Middle relievers, situational relievers, closers, the Gators had it all entering the season.

That’s something that really has set the Gators apart from other teams throughout the season. South Carolina, though, has a pair of phenomenal relievers in John Taylor and Matt Price. But in terms of quality depth at this stage of the season, the Gators definitely have the edge.

An amazing statistic to consider entering the title series, Florida has used eight total pitchers, five of them relievers, in the College World Series. South Carolina has used four pitchers, just two of them relievers – Taylor and Price.

Taylor, as expected, has been fantastic in Omaha. He has appeared in two games and has yet to allow a run in 5 2/3 innings. Price, meanwhile, put together a Herculean effort in a win over Virginia and has yet to allow a run in 6 2/3 innings. Overall, the duo enters the series with overalls ERAs of 1.17 and 1.91, respectively.

Something to watch entering the series is Matt Price’s status. The outstanding righty threw 90-plus pitches in Friday’s win over Virginia, and Tanner announced he likely won’t be available for the series opener, certainly hurting the Gamecocks’ chances to earn a series-opening victory.

While the Gamecocks have become accustomed to relying on two premier arms in Omaha, the Gators have a multitude of options with Nick Maronde, Austin Maddox, Steven Rodriguez and Tommy Toledo leading the way.

Maronde was shaky in Friday’s game against Vanderbilt, but still has yet to allow a run in two innings. Rodriguez has been especially clutch with a 1.93 ERA in 4 2/3 innings in Omaha, while Greg Larson has yet to allow a run in two spot situation appearances and Toledo allowed two runs without working an inning.

Maddox is the rock of the bullpen. Maddox returned to the mound for the first time since his ankle injury in NCAA Regional play on Friday, and was shaky in the first inning of work and solid in the ninth inning against Vanderbilt. Overall, the hard-throwing closer has a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings.


Florida has had a more productive offense than South Carolina much of the season, while the Gamecocks have been slightly better here in Omaha. However, the Gamecocks received a horrible piece of news Sunday when first baseman Christian Walker was diagnosed with a hand injury after getting hit in the Virginia game.

The safe bet at this point is Walker won’t play for the Gamecocks. That means South Carolina will be without the services of its leading hitter, a guy that was hitting .355 with 20 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. With Robert Beary likely shifting from catcher to first base and Brady Thomas likely moving behind the plate, the Gamecocks will look to Steven Neff for production. He has a .254 average with seven home runs, considered an all-or-nothing type of hitter.

In Omaha, the Gamecocks have gotten solid performances from Scott Wingo, Brady Thomas, Peter Mooney and Jackie Bradley Jr. Wingo is hitting .400 with a .600 OBP in the CWS, while Thomas is hitting .357, Mooney is hitting .308 and Bradley is hitting .286. Robert Beary, Evan Marzilli and Adrian Morales must be more productive against the Gators.

For Florida, it’s all about getting more consistency from top to bottom. There’s no doubt the Gators have played the tougher side of the bracket on their road to the title series. However, they enter the series hitting .265 in the CWS with some key cogs struggling.

SEC Player of the Year and catcher Mike Zunino is hitting .167 in the CWS, while Brian Johnson is hitting .167 as well and shortstop Nolan Fontana is hitting .182. Those three, especially Zunino, must rise to the occasion.

On a more positive note, outfielder Daniel Pigott is hitting .400 in Omaha with a pair of doubles, Cody Dent is the big surprise with a .375 average and .545 OBP. Meanwhile, Bryson Smith is red-hot and hitting .364 and Preston Tucker is hitting .286 with a home run and six RBIs.

The Gators certainly have the edge in this department with Walker likely out for the Gamecocks, but the category still is close no matter what. South Carolina has done a tremendous job of getting key hits the past week and a half.


Florida enters the national title series with a solid defensive club, but there’s no doubt the Gamecocks have been more impressive in Omaha.

In the outfield, Evan Marzilli and Jake Williams are doing solid jobs, while getting center fielder Jackie Bradley back out there has been a treat to watch, as he’s incredibly smooth on most balls hit to the outfield.

In the infield, third baseman Adrian Morales has been adequate, while middle infielders Peter Mooney and Scott Wingo have made multiple amazing plays. Not having first baseman Christian Walker certainly hurts, but Robert Beary has played some first base throughout his career.

For the Gators, outfielders Bryson Smith, Daniel Pigott, Tyler Thompson and Preston Tucker have been solid, while in the infield, Cody Dent, Nolan Fontana, Josh Adams and Mike Zunino have been solid as usual. The Gators have been splitting Tucker’s time in the outfield and at first base.

Both the Gamecocks and Gators make few mistakes, one of many reasons why this national title series is so intriguing. South Carolina, though, enters the series with an edge in the key category.


Virginia coach Brian O’Connor is no stranger to the College World Series and might’ve said it best on Friday when he described South Carolina as a lot like the Oregon State program that won back-to-back national titles just a few years ago.

As O’Connor said, the Gamecocks just seem to always think they’re destined to win no matter how the game progresses. That’s not to say Florida isn’t a clutch team, but the Gamecocks have won games in crazy fashion and just have that aura..

Scott Wingo hit a walk-off single to beat Texas A&M in the CWS opener for the Gamecocks, while they defeated Virginia the second time around on a walk-off wild pitch. And perhaps the most impressive aspect of that win over the Cavaliers, closer Matt Price escaped several huge jams and tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings in relief.

The Gamecocks have gotten all the breaks in Omaha and they always feel like they’re going to win.

South Carolina knows exactly what it takes to win the national title, and that is the reason it gets the edge in the intangibles department. The experience and clutch play is there to win back-to-back national titles.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at

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