|Florida Gators||South Carolina Gamecocks|
Florida has been in Omaha for 11 days. The Gators have played just three games, thanks to running through Texas and SEC foe Vanderbilt on their side of the CWS bracket.
All of the days off have both teams ready to go for the best-of-three championship series beginning Monday. So why will Florida win its first national title in the next three days? Kevin O’Sullivan’s team is set up perfectly.
The Gators pitching staff is rested, and O’Sullivan can use nearly everyone. They have played so few games in the last two weeks that Florida’s coaching staff has looked for spots just to get all of the power arms some in-game work.
One good thing to come out of their ‘easy’ road to the championship series: being able to set up his starting rotation exactly how he wants for all three games – if it goes that far. Hudson Randall will get the nod in Game 1, while freshman Karsten Whitson will do so in Game 2. Randall on eight days rest, with Whitson on a full five.
If either run into trouble, the Gators have one of the best bullpens in the nation, which was just fortified by the return of closer Austin Maddox from a foot injury. He went 1.2 innings to close out Vanderbilt on Friday and lowered his ERA to a miniscule 0.69. They will also welcome back Brian Johnson to the mound for the first time since the SEC Tournament.
Looking at their Eastern Division rivals, South Carolina can not say the same. Coming off a 13-inning marathon game against Virginia, head coach Ray Tanner doesn’t have the same luxury when it comes to his pitching staff. He’ll go with freshman Forrest Koumas in Game 1 – it’ll be his first start since facing Stetson June 5 in the Columbia Regional – and may be without star closer Matt Price for at least the first game. Price threw 95 pitches in 5.2 innings in the 3-2 win against the Cavaliers.
The Gators may see South Carolina ace Michael Roth on Tuesday in Game 2. If they do, it’d mean the Gamecocks’ best pitcher – who owns a 0.98 ERA — is throwing on only three days rest.
When it comes to the bats, Florida may have cooled off from its torrid start to the postseason, but one guy who hasn’t let up is junior Preston Tucker. The Tampa, Fla., native has five home runs and 20 RBIs in nine postseason games. It’s only a matter of time before SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino does some damage in Omaha as well. Maybe after sawing off his bat in Friday’s game, it will bring Florida’s catcher some hits with a new one.
If the Gators lineup and pitching staff continue to click like they have all season, they will become the first SEC school to win a baseball, basketball and football national championship.
— Doug Kroll, NCAA.com
South Carolina will win the 2011 NCAA title for one simple reason – the Gamecocks know what it takes to claim the trophy.
Not only are the Gamecocks the defending national champions, and have won an NCAA-record 14 consecutive postseason games, but those victories have not come easy. South Carolina has gutted out win after win after win in tough spots. Last year, the Gamecocks lost their first CWS game, and then won six consecutive contests to capture the trophy with a walk-off win against UCLA.
The trend has continued this season as two of the Gamecocks’ three victories in the College World Series this year are walk-off wins, including a marathon 13-inning 3-2 defeat of Virginia. South Carolina worked its way out of seemingly countless jams against the Cavaliers, finally earning a spot in the championship series against Florida.
“South Carolina, they just know how to win,” Florida first baseman Preston Tucker said. “If they find themselves in a tough spot in the ballgame, they know how to get out of it. They make big pitches and get timely hits. I think they know how to perform late in the ballgame.”
“We have to hang around and compete and try to stay in position to win, and we do win a lot of games from the fifth inning on,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “That’s who we’ve been.”
The Gamecocks’ stellar pitching staff has kept them in games all year, and especially in the postseason. South Carolina leads all NCAA Tournament teams with an 8-0 record and 1.30 ERA. The staff has also held foes to a .208 batting average.
South Carolina will not have its ace Michael Roth or star closer Matt Price available in Game 1, but will start freshman Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.07 ERA), who last pitched in an NCAA Regional contest against Stetson on June 5. Koumas has already proven to be effective against the Gators this season, tossing 6.0 innings in a no-decision on March 26. He struck out five batters, gave up just one unearned run on two hits before he was relieved by Price in South Carolina’s 2-1 loss. Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA) will likely be ready to go in Game 2 on Tuesday.
During the regular season Southeastern Conference series, South Carolina took two of three games against the Gators, holding Florida’s offensive-minded club to a .217 batting average on the weekend and compiling a 2.08 ERA.
Between South Carolina’s stingy pitching staff and the squad’s sheer will to win, the Gamecocks should be clearing some space in the trophy case for the 2011 crown.
— Amy Farnum, NCAA.com