Who will win the national title?
South Carolina and Arizona are ready to battle for the title
South Carolina GamecocksThrow it and pick it - that's the key for South Carolina. The Gamecocks' pitching staff and defense will be the difference-maker against Arizona in the CWS Championship Series. Game 1 is 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.
South Carolina's pitching staff is No. 2 nationally in hits allowed per nine innings (7.14) and it leads the nation in WHIP (1.12). Defensively, the Gamecocks are No. 3 in fielding percentage (.980).
Put it all together and it's a recipe for success, especially in a three-game series, when mistakes tend to be amplified.
"We've got a pretty good team," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said, "but we're not the '27 Yankees." No, the Gamecocks do not strike fear into opposing pitchers; South Carolina is hitting .268 - 200th out of 291 Division I teams.
But what the Gamecocks do have is an understanding of how to manage the game, physically and mentally, without dwelling on the bad - or even the good things, like celebrating a third consecutive national championship.
"You really can't allow yourself to go there," Tanner said. "You just try to play the next game."
South Carolina faced back-to-back-to-back elimination games on Thursday and Friday, staving off Kent State 4-1 and Arkansas twice, 2-0 and 3-2. Gamecocks' pitchers allowed only 11 hits in 27 innings and the team did not commit and error.
"You know, we've been here and we've had some good fortune here," Tanner said, "[but] I don't think it's an advantage for us.
"I hate to try to give you coach-speak, but we're probably the underdog. We've been through the losers' bracket; we've played a couple extra games. And [the Arizona Wildcats] are scoring 10 or 12 runs a game. They're just an offensive a juggernaut. So we've got our work cut out for us."
Certainly it will be a challenge considering South Carolina's dependency on freshmen. The Gamecocks have a handful of freshmen who are key contributors - and not getting caught up in the moment will be paramount.
"The hardest thing for young players is handling the adversity, the respect in the game, the bad at bats, the bad pitches, the bad defensive plays, letting it go quick enough," Tanner said. "That's the hardest thing for any baseball player, but especially for any young player. And they've learned to let it go and try to go forward. You got eyes in the front of your head, not behind you."
Senior pitcher Michael Roth has picked up on the youngsters' tenacity for doing the right thing. "We have a bunch of young guys, and as an older guy it's nice to see how they've grown. They've kind of molded into the competitive spirit, the battling and grinding out at-bats.
"I did say to Coach Tanner after we won [Friday night], I was like, 'Can you believe we're in a position to defend our title with these knucklehead freshmen we have?' And we were kind of laughing about that."
It will be an even heartier laugh if the Gamecocks continue to throw it and pick it for another two wins. --Duane Cross, NCAA.com
Arizona WildcatsArizona has gotten used to this winning thing. Winners of all eight NCAA tournament games they have played, the Wildcats will need to win two out of their next three to take the national title away from two-time defending champion South Carolina.
While it's never easy to knock a champion off its pedestal -- just ask Arkansas -- Arizona has all the ingredients clicking at the right time to do it. The three phases of the game have all come together during a stretch of 16 wins in 18 games, including nine in a row overall.
The overall pitching staff's numbers don't jump off the page. A 3.79 ERA is nothing to gawk at. But when you factor in what the Arizona starting pitchers have accomplished since the NCAA tournament began, it's a staff that can put some fear into any team. Especially a South Carolina team that has a team batting average of just .268.
Each Arizona starting pitcher has gone at least 7.0 innings in every NCAA tournament game. The Wildcats are the only school in the 64-team field that can make that claim. Over the last three years, the only team to have a starter go that long in every postseason game was New Mexico in 2011. The Lobos only played in two.
That doesn't even factor in the complete games and shutouts this group has tossed. Led by Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade - Sunday's starter - the Wildcats have posted a staggering 15 complete games. There's almost been no need for Andy Lopez to touch the phone in the dugout to call the bullpen.
Then there's that Arizona lineup. It's one of the better ones Lopez has had while in Tucson with no real holes. They can beat you from top to bottom. It's a lineup that is fourth in the nation in batting average at .330, and sixth in scoring with 7.4 runs per game. South Carolina hasn't even scored more than seven runs in an NCAA tournament game.
The only offensive category the Gamecocks hold the edge in against the Wildcats are home runs. But most of that is the product of Arizona's first-year home, Hi Corbett Field. With canyon-like dimensions that make TD Ameritrade Park Omaha look like a Little League field, the Wildcats have hit just 22 long balls in 2012.
Look out, though. Bobby Brown and Robert Refsnyder hit home runs against Florida State on Thursday, marking the third time all season Arizona had hit more than one in a game. The Wildcats can beat you in many ways by pushing the envelope when runners get on base. They'll need to do that against a South Carolina pitching staff that doesn't allow many baserunners, with the Gamecocks owning the No. 1 WHIP in the nation at 1.12.
"I started going through [Arizona's stats] and obviously didn't get much sleep after that," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "They're really good. We had a chance in the Regionals when they were televised and I got a chance to see them play there, and were playing Louisville, and they're shooting balls in both alleys. And I've been to Hi Corbett. It's a big yard. Hard to get it out of there. But their plate discipline is incredible. Making all the plays."
Finally, there's history. It's on Arizona's side given no team has won three national championships in a row since Southern California won five from 1970-74. --Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com