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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bar set at South Carolina

Kendall Rogers        
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Legends often are born at the College World Series.

Everyone remembers the dramatic home run by LSU's Warren Morris in the CWS, followed by Miami's Alex Cora planting his face into the ground. They also remember the many of pitchers who left everything on the mound at Rosenblatt Stadium.

For as long as there is a CWS, everyone also will remember South Carolina's Michael Roth and Matt Price, and the entire junior and senior classes for the Gamecocks.

"The players come and go, but then you have guys that have tremendous roots in your program ... and these guys do," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "There's a tremendous void. Not because of just how successful they were; that's part of it. But these guys are, you know, like an extension of our coaching staff. These guys take ownership and they have for a long time. And that's the part that's going to be more difficult. Their ownership has been second to none."

The path these Gamecocks have traveled over the course of the past three seasons has been remarkable to say the least, and that extends to Roth and Price.

As long as Ray Tanner has been around South Carolina, there's no doubt the Gamecocks had been considered a great program. But on the same level as programs such as Texas, Florida State, Miami, Arizona State and USC? Not really.

Tanner, with the help of veteran classes, and Roth and Price, changed that perception.

In 2010, the Gamecocks reached the CWS, but certainly weren't the favorites to win the national title. They began the tournament with a tough loss to Oklahoma, but fought back with a dominant win over Arizona State. Then, facing elimination yet again, the legend of Roth, the Godfather of College Baseball, as Arizona's Robert Refsnyder put it, was born.

Against the rival Clemson Tigers, Roth, who then was a situational reliever, struck out four batters and allowed just one run on three hits in nine innings of work, as he helped keep the Gamecocks alive with a 5-1 win. Then, he put together another outstanding start in the CWS Championship Series against UCLA. Meanwhile, Price was on the mound to finish the finale of that series, tossing 2 2/3 scoreless innings of work.

Fresh off the program's first national title, the legends of Roth and Price would only blossom even more, as the two put together equally outstanding 2011 campaigns that, again, led to yet another national title for the Gamecocks.

Then, of course, there's this season, where both pitchers once again made history. Roth made his eighth CWS start in this year's tournament. He also started on three-days rest for the third time in the event, while also tallying an amazing 1.49 ERA in 60 1/3 innings pitched in CWS action. Meanwhile, Price set the CWS record for wins with five in his career, while he tossed 20 1/3 straight scoreless innings -- a streak that only was snapped in the series finale against Arizona, as he allowed three runs in the ninth. Overall, Price made an astonishing 13 CWS appearances.

Racking up those numbers, and memories, was quite unimaginable before now.

"I don't think you can imagine what I've been able to do my four years here," Roth said. "You know, what we all have been a part of. The things that the teams, you know, have been a part of the past three years. I don't think you can imagine that, really."

Over the past three seasons, the Gamecocks assembled a 22-game NCAA postseason winning streak, in addition to a 12-game CWS winning streak -- both streaks ended earlier in this year's tournament in a loss to Arkansas.

"They've done it with passion and enthusiasm, and they've done it the right way," Tanner said. "I'm not sure ... well, it would take a long time, on this stage, for two guys to have as many appearances and innings, and as much success as these guys in Omaha. These guys have been very special."

Moving forward, the Gamecocks will look a little different on the baseball diamond. They'll be without Michael Roth and Matt Price. Offensively, they'll be without athletic outfielder Evan Marzilli, first baseman Christian Walker and outfielder Adam Matthews. But outside of those departures, the Gamecocks will be in good shape in 2013.

They'll have a solid offensive lineup with the return of Joey Pankake, LB Dantzler, Kyle Martin, Tanner English, Grayson Greiner and Chase Vergason. Also, others such as Brison Celek will have larger roles, while the Gamecocks also welcome yet another talented freshman class to campus.

On top of those returning players and additions, they'll still have a solid pitching staff. Colby Holmes and Jordan Montgomery will anchor the starting rotation, while Tyler Webb, who had a great junior campaign, could very well move into the rotation, while Forrest Koumas will be expected to log more innings. There also are talented young arms such as Evan Beal and Joel Seddon, among others.

It's very safe to say the future remains bright for the Gamecocks.

This all, of course, partly responsible because of Roth, Price and the veterans.

Forever in Omaha, they'll be known as legends. In Columbia, S.C., they'll forever be called heroes.

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