OMAHA, Neb. — South Carolina's dream of a third consecutive national championship vanished for good Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park when Grayson Greiners fly ball fell into the glove of Arizona right fielder Robert Refsnyder.
As soon as the last out, it sunk in, USC first baseman Christian Walker said.
There seemed to be a state of disbelief for USC and its fans. This is not the way things have ended for the Gamecocks over the past three seasons. Everyone had come to expect Greiner to deliver a three-run triple, or perhaps a game-winning grand slam.
Not this time. This time, Arizona made the big plays in sweeping the championship series. This time, Arizona produced the big hits. This time, Arizona swept the final series, winning 5-1 and 4-1.
It might take awhile for the sting of the championship series defeat to subside. When it does and it will the USC coaching staff, the players and their fans will remember the three-year ride instead of the ending.
What a remarkable ride it was.
These will stand forever as the glory days for USC baseball, a three-year stretch unmatched by any team in any other sport at USC. Along the way, USC posted 158 wins and lost 50 games.
The magnitude of it all went beyond the wins and championships. USCs magical ride finally dispelled the long-held myth that Gamecock athletics teams could not win on a big stage. The national championships were the first steps to the athletics department finally ending what many believed was a Chicken Curse that worked against every program.
In so doing, other teams in other sports began to believe winning and winning big could happen for them as well. The womens soccer program, the mens soccer program and, of course, football reached new heights.
This USC team did it with a cornerstone of four players who established themselves as superstars in the college game, led by ace left-hander Michael Roth, who left Omaha as one of the most decorated pitchers in College World Series history.
Roth was representative of the type of player coach Ray Tanner has brought to USC. He pitched throughout his career with guile, poise and enough smarts to consistently gain an edge over the opposition. He was the heart of the past three teams, providing the beat that every other teammate fed off.
Its been a wonderful opportunity, Roth said afterward. I dont think you can imagine what Ive been able to do my four years. The things that the teams (accomplished), weve all been a part of the past three years, I dont think you can imagine that.
Then there was Matt Price and Walker and Evan Marzilli.
USC might never again have the same feeling of absolute confidence when pitching coach Jerry Meyers signaled to the bullpen late in a close game. When No. 22 sprinted toward the pitching mound, USC and its fans knew a victory was in hand with the ball in Prices hand.
Walker and Marzilli were the models of consistency.
Walker became one of the most feared hitters in the game, forcing opponents to pitch around him or, at the least, pitch him with the care of a safe-breaker. Few in the college game possess the strength to power the ball to any part of the ballpark as well as the bat control to spray the ball in any direction. Walker did.
Marzilli did the unthinkable this season. He became a better defensive outfielder than his predecessor, the incomparable Jackie Bradley. Fans long will talk about that Marzilli catch against Appalachian State, or the one against Clemson, or the one against Florida, or the one ...
Of course, the ending was not what these four envisioned, but it will never overshadow their many accomplishments along the way.
Winning one championship was unthinkable. Winning another was beyond compare. Being in contention for a third proved that USC has the premier program in college baseball.
Its been great, since freshman year until now, Walker said. Three years, three trips to Omaha, two of them I was lucky enough to end up with a ring. Not many people can say that. Overall, its been a great ride, but its still a little disappointing for us.
Only the ending is disappointing. The ride was remarkable and it is what should be remembered.
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