OMAHA, Neb. – Bullseye on their backs.

It’s what almost every defending champion deals with. It comes along with any of the accolades. It’s added pressure to one of the toughest sports to play.

Coming off the first national championship in program history, South Carolina has dealt with all of it and more in 2011. The Gamecocks have seen a rash of injuries to the point where during this season head coach Ray Tanner almost didn’t have enough outfielders to play if one more guy went down.

Playing with only 11 or 12 position players at times is a difficult proposition. But making it even more difficult was being without the sparkplug that was such a large part to the 2010 championship run, Jackie Bradley Jr.

The 2010 College World Series Most Outstanding Player who hit .345 with two home runs and a team-high nine RBIs in Omaha last season, Bradley hurt his left wrist while diving for a ball against Mississippi State on April 23 and has been out since.

That all should change Sunday afternoon in Omaha, as Bradley Jr. was part of the 27-man roster turned in by the Gamecocks on Thursday evening. The outfielder took some cuts in practice upon arrival in Omaha and deemed himself ready to go.

“A whole lot more [confident in my swing],” Bradley Jr. said. “I didn’t feel anything, it felt natural. My hand feels great. I’ve done every single thing with no pain. I was able to do everything with repetition. We’re going to take it slow and go day to day. Hopefully I’ll be able to play.”

Of course, not swinging a bat for nearly two months and dealing with a wrist injury in the biggest games of the season is something Tanner will keep an eye on.

“He looks good to go. The only thing missing is a lot of at-bats and repetition,” Tanner said. “He doesn’t look like he’s hampered at all, he can swing the bat. It gives us a little more hop in our step. All of a sudden we have some depth, we played most of the season with 11 or 12 guys. It adds another dimension if we have to make some moves.”

He will wear a wrist guard when hitting and running, and a different guard for his glove hand in the field to avoid his wrist bending in the wrong direction like it did the first time.

Something about Omaha and ‘JBJ’ goes together. It shouldn’t be surprising one of college baseball’s most exciting players may be back just in time for college baseball’s biggest stage.

“It feels good to be back, last time I was here was with Team USA [last summer] and I got a standing ovation,” Bradley Jr. said. “I don’t know what to expect now but I’m looking forward to it.”

Without Bradley Jr., South Carolina has relied on one of the best arms in the country, Michael Roth. The lefthander is 13-3 with a 1.02 ERA, and is another Gamecock who made a name for himself a year ago during the CWS, coming out of nowhere to log innings when South Carolina desperately needed them.

Roth threw 16.1 innings while allowing only two runs in Omaha last season, including five innings in the final win against UCLA, only four days after a complete-game victory against rival Clemson. Not bad for someone that only logged 14.1 innings all season before arriving at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The junior is now the ace of a staff that enters the CWS with the fifth-lowest ERA in the nation at 2.60.

For Tanner’s club in 2011, who knows where they’d be without Roth’s arm. It’s been a different ride back to the Midwest.

South Carolina's Road to Omaha
Result Details
S. Carolina 2, Ga. Sou. 1 Box | Recap
S. Carolina 11, Stetson 5 Box | Recap
S. Carolina 8, Stetson 2 Box | Recap
S. Carolina 5, UConn 1 Box | Recap | Video
S. Carolina 8, UConn 2 Box | Recap | Video

“We’ve really done a good job in the field. Our players have responded because it’s been a strange year with a lot of injuries and played a lot of lineups,” Tanner said. “We’ve pitched well and played good defense to get us through a lot of games. The trends in our game are you have to pitch it and catch it, and we’ve done that.”

Getting Bradley Jr. back would be a huge boost to the club. Just ask his teammates.

“It’d mean a lot, it’s another threat in our lineup,” Roth said. “We’ve been able to accomplish a lot without him, but it just gives us another bullet in our gun and that always helps.”

But as one big bat is ready to come back, another may have to sit.

Evan Marzilli tweaked his hamstring in practice Thursday. But it looks as if he’ll be good to go and set to play Sunday as well.

South Carolina will be trying to become only the sixth school to repeat as a national champion in Division I college baseball history. It doesn’t happen often, even when everyone is healthy.

But even if the Gamecocks’ leadoff hitter has to miss some time or Bradley Jr. struggles in his attempt to get back in the lineup, at least Tanner knows his team can win. The defending champs have done it all year.

And who knows who’s waiting in the wings to make a name for himself in 2011? Michael Roth can tell you all about that.