College World Series Championship Series Preview
Arizona vs South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks are looking for an unprecedented third straight national title while the Arizona Wildcats are looking for their first championship since 1986.
With their backs against the wall, Ray Tanner's South Carolina Gamecock baseball squad had the daunting task of having to win three elimination games in two days to even have a shot to continue their quest for a three-peat. Thanks to the leadership of Michael Roth, who got the ball rolling with a quick complete game against Kent State, they accomplished the feat. You could tell that if anyone was going to pull this off it would be South Carolina. When you have a reigning champion that is so battle tested it is going to take an extra, beyond the limits, performance to administer the knockout punch.
The ability to battle through this College World Series when the offense hasn't exactly been dominating for the Gamecocks is probably the biggest reason they are back in the championship series for the third straight year. That, and a dominant bullpen led by Matt Price, who has not given up a run in his last 18.2 innings of work at the College World Series.
The one drawback of having to go through this gauntlet for Coach Tanner is that he won't have Michael Roth available for game one. The most likely starter will be freshman Evan Beal who is 4-4 with a 4.02 earned run average in 2012. The biggest question will be how Beal will handle the spotlight of being on the hill in the all-important first game for the Gamecocks. The ability to win game one is huge for teams in this format as it takes the pressure off your pitching staff heading into game two. Thus, Beal will need to get as deep as he can in the opener and keep his team in the game. He doesn't have to dominate but if he can give the Gamecocks a chance to win late that will be a big asset.
Also, in the bullpen, Tyler Webb is working on a 14 inning scoreless streak for the Gamecocks thus if South Carolina can be in the lead after six innings they can shorten the game and really put the pressure on the Wildcats. Offensively, the Gamecocks have struggled in Omaha. They will be leaning on Christian Walker, who is hitting .319 and has 11 homeruns and 55 runs batted in on the season. Their ability to work the count and get timely hits is going to be critical to their success against the Wildcats in this series.
For Arizona, under head coach Andy Lopez, they come in a confident club whose style of play fits the wide open confines of TD Ameritrade Park. Sophomore Konner Wade should be well rested and ready to go tonight. His performance against UCLA in the second game was a definite difference maker in propelling the Wildcats to the 2-0 start that is so huge for teams to succeed in Omaha.
Offensively, the Wildcats have been on point in this series, as they have hit on average 70 points higher than their opponents at .330. The sparkplugs to their offense are outfielder Robert Refsnyder, who has 14 stolen bases and is hitting .357 with 64 runs driven in and Pac-12 Player of the Year, Alex Mejia, who is hitting .362. In addition, Joey Rickard is another very effective base stealer with 18 stolen bases in 2012. It will be important for the Wildcats to get out in front early against South Carolina so they can get their high contact game at the plate going, along with their speed game, to try and put extra strain on the South Carolina pitchers.
Pitching wise, ace Kurt Heyer should be available in Game 2 in what should be a fantastic showdown between him and Michael Roth. The Arizona bullpen has not gotten much work, thanks to great starting pitching so far in Omaha. Only Tyler Crawford and Matthew Troupe have seen action. So if it gets into the later innings in a tight game, it will be intriguing to see how the Wildcat bullpen responds to the pressure of the finals and being in Omaha.
Overall, this sets up to potentially be a knockdown, drag out three game series down to the wire and it will be fascinating to see which team responds best….the well-rested Arizona squad or the battle tested, heart of a champion South Carolina squad. The first game could end up being more important than normal considering the amount of elimination games the Gamecocks had to fight through just to get to Omaha. In the end, these two teams should put on another fantastic showcase of college baseball for the entire nation.