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June 28, 2010

Campus Notes

CWS Finals Preview

by Charles Dahan

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The Pac-10 and SEC will both be represented in the best-of-three College World Series finals at UCLA faces South Carolina beginning tonight, but neither conference is sending the squad that dominated their leagues in the regular season. Few things have gone as planned in Omaha, which became apparent early as each bracket’s top seed—Arizona State and Florida—were also the first teams to exit and the only ones to leave Rosenblatt Stadium winless.

UCLA marched through its bracket with its bats while Clemson’s explosive offense failed to show up in their final two games against South Carolina as a win in either game would have sent the Tigers into the finals. Game Two is set for Tuesday night, and if a third game is needed, it will be played Wednesday night. Here is a look at the two finalists:

South Carolina Gamecocks (52-16)
NCAA Tournament
: 9-1
CWS: 4-1
Regional: Hosted Columbia regional, defeated Bucknell, Citadel, and Virginia Tech, going 3-0.
Super Regional: At Myrtle Beach, defeated Coastal Carolina 4-3 and 10-9
College World Series: Lost to Oklahoma 4-3, defeated Arizona State 11-4, defeated Oklahoma 3-2, and defeated Clemson 5-1 and 4-3.

A look at the Gamecocks: South Carolina returned to form after ending the regular season in disappointing fashion, running through its CWS bracket after digging a hole by losing its first game. Over the course of five days, the Gamecocks eliminated Arizona State, exploded in the latter half of their game against Oklahoma to eliminate the Sooners, and knocked off Clemson by beating the Tigers twice.  With every game South Carolina won being an elimination game, it managed victories against teams having every resource at their disposal, with their seasons on the line.

South Carolina’s pitching has performed impeccably. The staff has posted an ERA of 2.68, and a WHIP of 0.89 in Omaha—both figures very impressive as the Gamecocks faced three of the nation’s heavies-hitting teams  During South Carolina’s conference season, those numbers were only matched only during a three-game sweep of Arkansas.

South Carolina’s arms are certainly exhausted, and whether or not they have any gas left in the tank against an incredibly deep UCLA team is the series' biggest question. Blake Cooper went 5 2/3 innings on Thursday against Oklahoma in a 12-inning affair. With only three days of rest and the fact he also went five innings last Sunday in a loss to the Sooners, Cooper is still the best rested of South Carolina’s three regular starters. He should get the ball Monday though South Carolina coach Ray Tanner had yet to announce his opening game starter as of Sunday evening. South Carolina’s saving grace could be Michael Ross’ complete-game three-hitter Friday against Clemson.  Ross, who had not started all season or pitched more than four innings in a game, gives the Gamecocks flexibility in limiting the pitches Cooper will have to throw Monday or in Game 2, as well as freeing up No. 2 starter Sam Dyson (who eliminated Clemson on Saturday) for limited use in a potential Game Three.

UCLA Bruins (51-15)
NCAA Tournament
: 8-2
CWS: 3-1
Regional: Hosted Los Angeles Regional and defeated Kent State, LSU and UC Irvine
Super Regional: Hosted Los Angeles Super Regional and lost to Cal State Fullerton 4-3, then defeated Fullerton 11-7 and 8-1.
College World Series: Defeated Florida 11-3, defeated TCU 6-3, lost to TCU 6-2, and defeated TCU 10-3.

A look at the Bruins: UCLA allowed 15 runs through 35 innings in the CWS, for a team ERA of 4.29 and a WHIP of 1.11. This was nearly a full run higher than their ERA during conference play (3.38), but the Bruins shut down opponents when they needed to, with Trevor Bauer holding Florida to three runs through seven innings (with Erik Goeddel finishing the game with two scoreless innings), and then coming back Saturday to finish off TCU and send UCLA to the finals by allowing two earned runs over eight innings.

The final series’ most significant strategic decision will fall to UCLA coach John Savage regarding how to best exploit his team’s outstanding pitching depth. Bauer will be available in Game Three if needed, with starters Gerrit Cole and Rob Rasmussen pitching games one and two with with six and three days of rest, respectively.

UCLA’s hottest bats in Omaha have been at the top of the lineup as Niko Gallego has six hits and a walk in 15 at-bats and Beau Amaral has seven hits and two walks in 15 at-bats. Blair Dunlap has five RBI in four games.

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