The South Carolina Gamecocks rode a strong second half of the regular season to their first College World Series title, sweeping the UCLA Bruins in the best-of-three finals at the College World Series. The Gamecocks won the decisive Game 2 in dramatic fashion as right fielder Whit Merrifield—who had been having a pedestrian CWS with nine hits in 33 at bats along with only one walk and two RBIs—knocked a single to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. Merrifield’s heroics secured the title, four of his teammates make up the top 10 CWS performers in Rosenblatt Stadium’s last appearance as the home of the College World Series as Omaha will have a new stadium next June.
No. 1: Michael Roth, (SP, RP) South Carolina
Roth started exactly zero games this season prior to throwing a three-hit shutout in the Gamecocks’ first elimination game against Clemson. With the South Carolina pitching staff gassed from playing a 12-inning contest against Oklahoma the night before (another elimination game for the Gamecocks, who lost their first match in Omaha and therefore had to win four straight to eliminate Arizona State, Oklahoma, and Clemson to make the finals), Roth not only shut down an explosive Tigers' offense, but preserved his staff for the next three games. While the Clemson game would certainly be a decent argument for Roth being the most pivotal performer of the series, he returned on three days of rest to throw five innings in the CWS finale, giving up one earned run on six hits. Roth’s 14 innings over four games kept South Carolina’s arms fresh to hold UCLA’s offense in check.
No. 2: Matt Purke, (SP) TCU
Purke earned himself quite a bit of money over the last month, and certainly is the best argument in quite a while for pitchers attending college. He did all he could to try to propel TCU to the finals after shutting down Texas for the key performance of the super-regional round. Purke, the Rangers' first-round draft pick last year, shut down Florida State in the first game in Omaha, allowing no earned runs, four hits, and four walks in seven innings while striking out seven. He returned in the Horned Frogs’ first elimination game against UCLA to earn his school-record 16th win, holding the Bruins to two earned runs and three hits over 6 1/3 innings. Purke, who finished the season 16-0, pitched three of TCU’s final eight games, with the team giving up a total of four runs in his three starts (for an average of 1.3 a start) against 38 runs in the five games he didn’t take the mound (for an average of a whopping 7.6). While this was TCU’s first trip to Omaha, Purke’s return to Fort Worth next season makes him an immediate favorite atop the national award watch lists.
No. 3: Trevor Bauer (SP) UCLA
Bauer took the mound in UCLA’s opening game against favorite Florida, and held the Gators to three runs over seven innings while striking out 11. He followed that with eight innings, 13 strikeouts and just two earned runs allowed to propel UCLA past TCU and into the finals. UCLA would have certainly had the advantage with Bauer on the mound in Game 3, if the Bruins had only been able to get an extra run in regulation in Game 2 against South Carolina, though—with the exception of Gerrit Cole’s pedestrian performance in the first game of the finals (six runs, four earned, in seven innings)—any of UCLA’s big three (Rob Rasmussen completing the trio) would have proven formidable.
No. 4: Christian Walker (1B) South Carolina
Walker was an absolute beast, batting .414 in Omaha going 12-for-29 with three walks. While Walker drove in about half the runs as teammate Jackie Bradley Jr., his bat was necessary in compensating for the dry spells of Adrian Morales (.186), Scott Wingo (.105) and Adam Matthews (.100).
No. 5: Blake Cooper (SP) South Carolina
Cooper was South Carolina’s ace throughout the year, and didn’t disappoint in his start against UCLA in Game 1 of the finals, in which he threw 136 pitches over eight innings, giving up one run and three hits. Against Oklahoma, Cooper threw nearly 100 pitches in just 5 2/3 innings, though he only surrendered one run as the Gamecocks eliminated the Sooners.
No. 6: Tyler Ogle (C) Oklahoma
Ogle only played three games in Omaha, but he certainly shined as Oklahoma’s cleanup hitter. He went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three walks. His OBP was .572, and he was a rare bright spot on a Sooners offense that never got off the ground, scoring just 10 runs in three games and squandering quality pitching performances.
No. 7: Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF) South Carolina
Bradley won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, but it was more for his timely hitting, including a home run against Arizona State, than overall production. Bradley was 10-for-29 with three walks for an OBP of .406, but it was his nine RBI—the most on the Gamecocks (Walker was second with five)—that allowed him to take home the hardware.
No. 8: Alex Frederick (RP) Clemson
While Frederick will be remembered for giving up the fourth run against South Carolina, which eliminated the Tigers, he appeared in three of Clemson’s four games, giving up only four hits across 4 2/3 innings. He shut down Arizona State in the Tigers’ opening game and sealed the victory against Oklahoma, which had scored three runs in the previous three innings, before Frederick took the mound.
No. 9: Stephen Cardullo (SS) Florida State
After Florida State was shut down by Purke in the opening game, Cardullo did his best to try to power the Seminoles to another CWS crown. Cardullo had only three games in Omaha, but he certainly made the most of them, going 3-for-4 in Seminoles’ 11-7 loss to TCU, and a home run in Florida State’s lone win, which eliminated in-state rival Florida.
No. 10: John Hinson (3B) Clemson
Hinson led a streaky Clemson offense that put up 12 runs against Arizona State and Oklahoma, but only four in its two games against South Carolina. He went 7-for-16 and was a bright spot in the Tigers' dismal collapse against South Carolina.