Baseball team showed grit, champion’s heart

July 3, 2012 

WHILE the University of South Carolina’s baseball team fell two wins short of snagging what would have been an astounding third consecutive College World Series title, its solid season and run into the championship round affirmed what already had been evident: The country’s premier college baseball team resides in the Palmetto State.

Not only that, but the Gamecocks make a good case for being the classiest team as well, beginning with their all-around good-guy coach Ray Tanner. Coach Tanner, a revered leader on the diamond and throughout the community, built the foundation for his program’s success by stressing character alongside athletic fundamentals, mental toughness and extra effort.

While football always will be the top draw and moneymaker, the baseball team’s success has set the standard and created the winning attitude that has infected the USC sports department. The football team — asking “Why not us?” — has become a legitimate contender in the SEC East, and the women’s basketball team has followed suit, making it to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament.

This season, Mr. Tanner and his team showed true grit as they ground their way to the College World Series. While the Gamecocks began the year with such battle-tested, known commodities as world-class pitcher Michael Roth, the team also had a number of question marks in a few promising freshmen and a couple of junior college performers, who had to prove themselves.

Mr. Roth, one the most heralded pitchers in USC and College World Series history, went 26-6 with a 1.91 ERA in his career and logged a 4-0 mark with a 1.49 ERA in College World Series appearances. He also broke a number of College World Series career records, including the most starts — eight — and the most innings pitched — 60 1/3. But he’s far more than a strong arm on the baseball field: The recent graduate’s GPA dwarfs his ERA.

Fair or not, this now-vaunted program is now expected to compete for the title every year — even with Mr. Roth, senior right-fielder Adam Matthews, first baseman Christian Walker, center fielder Evan Marzilli and pitcher Matt Price headed to the pro ranks. And here’s what’s so extraordinary about that: While we certainly can’t guarantee another trip to the College World Series, it would hardly be surprising.

No, next year’s team won’t be loaded with national champions, but it will have a capable nucleus that includes some freshmen and transfers who developed and displayed the heart of champions this season. Having had a taste of the title round, we suspect they are hungry to start a run of their own.

Perhaps the most unsettled question is whether Mr. Tanner will become athletics director following the departure of Eric Hyman, which would mean a new coach would have to be sought to lead the baseball team. Whatever happens, the Gamecocks have the component parts to put another impressive team on the diamond next year that should make South Carolina proud.

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