(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in South Carolina Athletics’ countdown. Starting Tuesday April 14, we will be revealing portions of the list nightly on 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Gamecocks history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk Radio Network.
#2: 2011 CWS Championship
The 2011 Gamecocks Baseball team built off its incredible 2010 championship season, reaching the lofty expectations placed on the program to complete back-to-back national championships. South Carolina joined five other programs with the distinction of repeating as national champs.
Championship or bust. That was the expectation set on the 2011 South Carolina Gamecocks. After defeating UCLA to win the 2010 national championship, the program’s first, the only thing left to do was to continue that success.
And in his 15th season as head coach, Ray Tanner set out to do exactly that.
“They were young enough and had enough players returning to do it again,” said Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk Radio Network, who’s covered Gamecock athletics for over 30 years.
Among those returning were 2011 First-Feam All-SEC pitchers Michael Roth and Matt Price as well as second-baseman Scott Wingo. Sophomore infielder Christian Walker was a Second-Team All-SEC selection, and newcomer Forrest Koumas was recognized as SEC Freshman of the Year. Along with them was outfielder Jackie Bradley, who was selected as the 40th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft. Needless to say, it was a team stacked with talent and ready to repeat.
The Gamecocks opened the season with an eight-game winning streak. After a few losses sprinkled in they went on another big run, winning nine straight at the end of March and into April. From March 27 to May 6, South Carolina went 20-2.
USC was an all-around threat. They finished the regular season 44-12 recording a run differential of plus-207.
“It was a well-developed team that had great pitching, good speed, excellent defense, well coached, and they knew how to handle the pressure,” said Kornblut.
The team finished the season batting .294 while the pitching staff had a remarkable 2.45 cumulative ERA. Walker led the team with a .358 average, adding 10 home runs and 60 runs batted in. Roth led all pitchers with a 1.06 ERA, going 14-3 in 20 starts.
The bullpen put up great numbers, too. South Carolina was a perfect 45-0 when leading after the sixth inning.
“They would rely heavily on their bullpen and had no fear of going to the end and bringing somebody in at any time,” said Kornblut.
South Carolina was ousted in the second round of the SEC Tournament, failing to win the conference as Florida went on to take the title. But the Gamecocks had their eyes on a much bigger prize.
South Carolina rolled through the Columbia Regional, first defeating Georgia Southern, 2-1, then Stetson,11-5 and 8-2 in the Regional Finals.
The Gamecocks were matched up with Connecticut in the Columbia Super Regional with a chance to get back to Omaha. UConn brought a high-powered offense to the series scoring an average of 11.5 runs over their four regional games.
But the Huskies were no match for the South Carolina pitching staff. The Gamecocks allowed a total of three runs over the two-game series, beating Connecticut, 5-1 and 8-2.
South Carolina was back in the College World Series with an opportunity to defend its title.
College World Series (Omaha, Nebraska: June 19-28)
The Gamecocks arrived in Omaha as a number four seed and were welcomed by not only South Carolina fans, but local baseball fans as well.
“They became the darlings of Omaha,” said Kornblut. “The people of Omaha loved South Carolina during those years.”
South Carolina narrowly edged Texas A&M, 5-4, in the opening round. But top-seeded Virginia was right around the corner. The first game between the two was all USC as the Gamecocks won convincingly, 7-1.
Virginia rebounded, defeating Cal for a spot in the semifinals, and a chance for revenge against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina and Virginia went toe-to-toe the entire game and went extra innings tied at two.
In the top of the 12th, the Cavaliers had the bases loaded with one out. But Matt Price came through big when he forced Virginia into a double play as USC lived to play another inning.
The exact scenario presented itself in the 13th, and once again Price induced another Cavaliers double play ball.
USC would not be denied. And in the bottom half of the 13th, with two on, Robert Beary laid down a bunt. As Adam Matthews raced for third, a throw there was wide, and Matthews was home free for the walk-off winner. The Gamecocks were back in the finals for the second straight year.
College World Series Championship Series (South Carolina vs. Florida)
Game One (June 27, 2011)
Number four South Carolina got a rematch with its SEC foe and number two Florida in the College World Series best-of-three final series at T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the first year that the ballpark was host for the CWS.
Freshman Forrest Koumas got the call as the starter for the Gamecocks in game one. Hudson Randall dealt for the Gators.
Florida scored a run in the third inning, the only run Koumas gave up in five-and-two-thirds innings pitched. But they held that lead for several innings while relievers Tyler Webb and John Taylor fended off several Gator threats. It was 1-0 Florida going into the eighth.
In the top of the eighth, with a runner on third and two out, Wingo sent a chopper up the middle to bring in the tying run.
In the bottom of the ninth, Florida had the bases loaded with none out. Wingo came through again, this time with his glove, making a diving stop on an infield grounder and then bouncing up to throw out the runner at home, keeping the Gamecocks alive. He did the same on the very next play, getting the force out at home, only this time Beary threw to first for the double play. The Gamecocks seemed destined to win.
But it wasn’t their final defensive highlight. With two on in the bottom of the tenth, Florida connected on a line drive to left, but Jake Williams fired a rocket home and Beary laid the tag just in time. They evaded a loss once again.
Then in the eleventh, with Walking attempting to steal second, a poor throw by the Florida catcher allowed Walker to head for third. Another Gators throwing error allowed Walker to score the go-ahead run.
Matt Price finished the job in the bottom of the inning, and South Carolina took a one game lead, winning 2-1.
Game Two (June 28, 2011)
Michael Roth was the Gamecocks starter for game two, going up against Florida’s Karsten Whitson.
Just like the first game, the initial score came in the third, only this time it South Carolina which drew first blood.
Wingo, with runners on the corners, hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Peter Mooney.
Later in the inning, Walker stepped to the plate with two on and delivered on an infield grounder that took a favorable bounce over the shortstop. The Gamecocks jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Brady Thomas brought in a third run, reaching on an infield single.
The Gators got one back in the fourth, but after a solo home run by Mooney in the sixth, the Gamecocks again led by three runs at 4-1.
Despite giving up another run in the top of the eighth, Roth put together an impressive performance. Through seven-and-two-thirds innings, he tossed 127 pitches, allowed two runs, and struck out six.
USC kept the Gators off the board the rest of the way, sweeping Florida with a 5-2 win in game two. It was a signature performance from one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball.
“Michael Roth emerged in Omaha over those two seasons as a fantastic pitcher, and Matt Price emerging as maybe the best closer in the country,” said Kornblut.
Even with a target on their back throughout the season, the Gamecocks joined elite company as one of the few to repeat as national champions.
“That’s when it’s really difficult,” said Kornblut. “When you have to meet expectations that are set so high. The fact that they went out there and did it again, and backed it up, was pretty impressive.”
Along the way the Gamecocks became the first team in NCAA baseball history to win all 10 postseason games en route to a national title.
Tanner led South Carolina back to the CWS championship series again in 2012 (a series loss to Arizona), but the 2010-2011 teams are still the only titles in program history.
South Carolina Top Ten List: