OMAHA, Neb. — Editor's note: This column was updated June 19 to correct the length of USC's CWS win streak to 12 games.
Christian Walker and several of his South Carolina teammates stood at the dugout rail in what appeared to be stunned disbelief. Chase Vergason had just grounded out to end USCs Monday night game against Arkansas at TD Ameritrade Park.
The streak was over.
Seven hundred and twenty-nine days had passed since USC last lost either an NCAA tournament game or a College World Series game. The win streaks covered 22 NCAA tournament games, including 12 in the College World Series.
These guys, some are still here, and the guys who came before, its one of those things, you dont know if it could happen or it will ever happen again, USC coach Ray Tanner said. Its been a pretty good run.
Throughout the streaks, USC typically has made big plays at the most opportune of times, particularly on defense. That was evident in USCs opening-round win over Florida on Saturday when pitcher Michael Roth, Vergason and Evan Marzilli all made spectacular plays to preserve the opening-round win over Florida.
On Monday, it was Arkansas that made all the plays. The Razorbacks infield defense was air tight, and the pitching of Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin was nothing short of outstanding.
We didnt do enough to win and they did, USC coach Ray Tanner said of Arkansas. Thats the way it goes sometimes.
Those sometimes have been few and far between for USC in the postseason over the past three years as it strung together a couple of the more remarkable streaks in the history of college athletics.
The streaks should rank up there with UCLAs 88-game win streak in mens basketball from 1971 to 1974 and Oklahomas 47-game win streak in football from 1953 to 1957.
Actually, because it is baseball, USCs streak might be a greater accomplishment than those in mens basketball and football for a couple reasons. First, these USC streaks occurred in the postseason when the competition is stronger. Also, baseball is the only sport where any team can win any game, and rarely is there a heavy favorite in a particular game.
How else to explain that the worst major-league teams from year to year still win 70 or so games? How else to explain that a powerhouse club such as USC, aiming for a third consecutive national championship, can lose a regular-season game to Francis Marion, an NCAA Division II school?
Heck, 10-game win streaks in baseball are considered lengthy. When the Oakland As strung together 20 consecutive wins in 2002, it was the longest streak since the 1935 Chicago Cubs won 21 in a row.
In an age of developing parity in college baseball, both the NCAA tournament and College World Series win streaks are not likely to be broken anytime soon, perhaps never.
The NCAA tournament streak previously was held by Texas, which ran off 15 consecutive victories in 1983 and 1984. The previous College World Series streak was 10 games from 1972 through 1974 when Southern California was winning five consecutive national championships.
It is not as if USC pieced this streak together against a series of lightweight programs. There were a few Manhattans and Bucknells sprinkled into the NCAA tournament streak, but the College World Series streak has come against some of college baseballs premier programs. Arizona State, Oklahoma, Clemson, UCLA, Texas A&M, Virginia and Florida is a Whos Who of the college baseball elite.
Because the streaks have covered three NCAA tournaments and College World Series, it is easy to lose perspective on the circumstances when it got started. When USC fell to Oklahoma in the opening round of the 2010 College World Series, most fans believed it was the start of another failed trip to Omaha.
To that point, USC had lost seven consecutive opening-round games at the College World Series. Of those years, only in 2002 did USC fight out of the losers bracket to reach the championship game.
So, the loss to Oklahoma sparked a sense of here we go again, for the USC faithful. Then the streaks began innocently enough with an 11-4 victory over Arizona State. Five more wins, and USC had its first national championship. Then came the five-game sweep and national title in 2011.
Following USCs win over Florida on Saturday, it seemed as if the streaks would continue forever. But Arkansas brought it all to an end Monday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Now USC will attempt to start another set of streaks beginning Wednesday in a losers bracket game against Kent State.
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