OMAHA, Neb. — Call them the Cardiac Kids, the Battlin Boys, or Destinys Darlings. Whatever you want to call this South Carolina baseball team, you now can refer to it as National Champions.
The College World Series crown a year ago was one for the ages, one that belonged to the state of South Carolina, which so desperately needed good news in the wake of a plethora of scandals, and to a USC athletics program that had never before won an NCAA championship in a major sport.
It also served as a tribute to Bobby Richardson and June Raines, the two USC coaches who built the baseball program into national prominence, as well as every player along the way who contributed to putting the Gamecocks on the national college baseball map.
The Gamecocks captured the 2010 title by closing the doors on venerable old Rosenblatt Stadium, then returned to usher in spanking new TD Ameritrade Park with another championship.
This one belongs to Ray Tanner and a team of veteran players --- from second baseman Scott Wingo to third baseman Adrian Morales to catcher Brady Thomas to center fielder Jackie Bradley --- who simply knew how to win. Perhaps no coach in the long history of USC athletics better molded a group of players into a solid team with an unbending will to win.
It was fun to watch, said Eric Hyman, USCs athletics director. Never say die. They had the will to win. They willed themselves into this position. Its a reflection on the coaches and the student-athletes.
A year ago, catcher Robert Beary established an Avatar stick as a rallying cry during the opening-round of the NCAA tournament. The decorated bat was passed among teammates in the dugout as a symbol of the fight in the Gamecocks. This season, no symbol was needed. The rallying cry, the operative word, the theme throughout this teams championship run was battle. It battled through injuries to an outfield that proved to be makeshift during most of the late season and into the postseason.
I cant say enough about the players and coaches in our program, Tanner said. Our guys work extremely hard. They believe they can win. They try to find a way to do it, even sometimes when the odds are against us.
This team battled to score enough runs from game to game as its pitching staff and defense clamped down on opponents like no USC team since the wood-bat era.
It battled to win close game after close game throughout the post season. It did so by taking opposing pitchers deep into counts, forcing them to run out of steam in the middle innings. Then USC, time and again, turned the late game over to the bullpen tandem of John Taylor and Matt Price.
Few teams could match USCs side-winder (Taylor) and power arm (Price) in the late innings. Thats also when the Gamecocks began to wave their magic wand, beginning with a 2-1 victory over Georgia Southern to open the NCAA tournament.
Holding to that one-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, Price stood tall on the mound as Victor Roache, the national home run leader with 30, aimed to tie the game with one swing and force extra innings. Price needed five pitches to strike out Roache, and USC was on its way to the national title.
The magic --- and it really cannot be called anything else --- kicked into high gear when USC reached Omaha. Scott Wingo supplied a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning in USCs opening win over Texas A&M. Two games later, USC played the role of Houdini and escaped three bases-loaded, no out jams in extra innings, then won in the 13th on a pair of Virginia errors.
Then USC opened the finals series with an 11-inning win over Florida that featured another bases-loaded, no-out escape act and the heroics of Christian Walker, who not only played with a fractured wrist but singled, stole second and scored the winning run.
Perhaps USC was out of unbelievable finishes in Omaha because it did not need one in the title-clinching victory on Tuesday. This time, the Gamecocks rode the left arm of ace Michael Roth, who did pretty much what he did all season by allowing only two Florida run over 7 2/3 innings.
Then it was a matter of Price getting the final four outs, including the last when a fly ball off the bat of Floridas Ben McMahon settled into Bradleys glove in center field. The traditional dogpile followed on the pitchers mound.
As fireworks popped in the background and confetti was strewn on the field, the players and coaches joined their families and USC dignitaries in handshakes and hugs. Leading the charge was USC president Harris Pastides.
The words repeat, national champions and Gamecocks have never been said in the same sentence together, Pastides said. Thats a breakthrough. Im so proud of this team, coach Tanner, the kids, its a family. Theres chemistry, theres fate, theres magic.
The Cardiac Kids, the Battlin Boys and Destinys Darlings also are now national champions, once again.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)