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June 23, 2012We are watching an incredible run. In this age of parity and balance where cold-weather schools win Regionals and Super Regionals and just about every big conference school is doing what they need to success, somehow South Carolina is still rising above the pack.
The Gamecocks won three elimination games in two games capped by Friday evening's 3-2 classic over SEC mate Arkansas to earn their third consecutive trip to the College World Series Finals. This season may be their unlikeliest of the three trips due to a slow start as they broke in new players in key positions.
Assuming this run ever ends and someone else gets a chance to be the it program, those of us who witnessed this amazing stretch of Garnet and Black will always have the new benchmark to compare teams against.
This isn't the 1970s when few teams cared about the sport and Southern California won the title each season because they had better players.
South Carolina hasn't been the most talented team in their conference the past three seasons. Through it all, they keep making the most of their opportunities.
Guys step up with strong pitching performances. Michael Roth and Matt Price have been stalwarts through this entire run. But this season Tyler Webb and Jordan Montgomery stepped into key roles like Blake Cooper, Sam Dyson, and John Taylor did previously.
Next for South Carolina is an Arizona team playing their best ball of the season. We have our classic SEC-Pac 12 showdown - just not the two top seeds Florida and UCLA many of us expected. Arizona has a chance to slow down the SEC's title domination. They have won the last six in football, last year's basketball, and the last three in baseball. This is also the fifth consecutive season the SEC has had a team in the final two going back to Georgia's loss in 2009.
For Arkansas, they gave it a brilliant run. Limited offensively, they pitched well enough to win. The Hogs couldn't get the big inning when it was available and seemed to struggle overcoming the calls that went against them.
ESPN's K zone showed a strike zone that was small at times - other times it expanded. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Every umpire will have his own version of the strike zone.
The best anyone can ask for is consistency and it did appear the batters were left to guess exactly where the strike zone began and ended from one at bat to the next.
While it did seem Arkansas was on the raw end of quite a few of those calls, the same umpire struggled to call the plate for South Carolina as well. It becomes part of the game - albeit an unfortunate one on a stage like this one - and both teams have to cope.
All in all, South Carolina and Arkansas gave us three episodes of great theatre. We can only hope the championship series is its equal.