'We brought it back': Gamecocks, fans bask in title glory
COLUMBIA -- Gamecocks second baseman Scott Wingo told the hometown crowd, nearly 12,000 strong, that he did not get a "dang hour" of sleep Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, the team brought home its second consecutive title after a sensational win in the College World Series over Florida in Omaha, Neb.
Wingo, a Greenville native named the series' Most Outstanding Player, said the signs around the Colonial Life Arena for the University of South Carolina celebration that mentioned a battle for the title got it right.
"That's what we do, baby," Wingo said. "We brought it back."
USC President Harris Pastides recalled the nail-biting and extraordinary moments on the road to victory: extra-inning games and double plays that "look effortless."
"They're like a team of Harry Houdinis, these guys," Pastides said. "It was magic at work again."
Twelve-year-old Shaun Horne had a front-row seat to celebrate with the team. He missed the homecoming event last year and wasn't going to let that happen again.
"I've been a Gamecock fan all my life," Shaun said. "I made sure I was going to come. We had to come this year because we might not win next year. We're losing a lot of our superstars. I hope we can pull it off next year."
At least one standout, pitcher Michael Roth, a Greer native and possible future professional player, told the crowd, "I'm pretty sure I'll see you back in August," after the fans chanted, "One more year."
Shaun recruited a bunch of his family members to join him, including his older cousin Joseph Jenkins of Mount Pleasant, who drove to Columbia and stood outside in the nearly 100-degree heat to score the prized seats.
"It's a back-to-back celebration," Jenkins said.
The celebration extended outside the arena. Gov. Nikki Haley flew the USC flag over the Statehouse on Wednesday and legislators honored the team from the chamber floors. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said USC baseball had achieved legendary status with the win and called the players "gutsy."
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the players show character on and off the field. He offered an open invitation for all to join a parade at noon Friday on Main Street in the capital city. Some 20,000 turned out last year, and Benjamin said he wants to top that.
Schoolteachers Laney Taylor, a 1992 USC graduate from Harleyville, and Jonsey Proctor, a 2010 Gamecock alumnus from Reevesville, said USC makes the whole state proud.
"We love our Gamecocks," Taylor said.
Proctor said the back-to-back win proves two things: First, the Chicken Curse is dead and, second, USC "can stand up with the top of the country."
Accounting major Taylor Goodwin, a 20-year-old junior from Columbia, said he celebrated Tuesday with his friends and wanted to come out Wednesday to show the team some support.
"Two championships in a row -- that doesn't happen too often," Goodwin said.
The Gamecocks are the sixth team to earn repeat national championships. The team played an undefeated 10 games during the NCAA tournament and won a record-setting 16 consecutive NCAA tournament games over two years.
A message to the dreamers
The Gamecocks' team captains had these words to share with all the kids who dream of one day winning a College World Series:
Pitcher Michael Roth: "It's hard to describe. It's a dream come true. When I was 12, I remember watching South Carolina and Clemson play the College World Series, and Rosenblatt (stadium) was a place you wanted to be. You know, I have been blessed to have a chance to play there and you really can't describe what it's like. You can't describe what Omaha is like to anybody unless they've been there.
"If you're a young kid, trying to get there, you have to keep working hard. I know I am not the most talented person out there, but I try to work the hardest to be where I am."
Catcher Brady Thomas: "I have never had a feeling like that. I don't think last year, honestly, has kicked in yet, so I don't know when this year's will kick in. I just remember when I was younger in the summer sitting around and playing in the afternoons and me and my dad would sit around and watch the College World Series game and you dream about playing in the College World Series.
"When you come to a school like this and you have the opportunity to win, it's just indescribable. For all the young baseball players, I would say, 'Never stop dreaming. You can always reach the top.' Don't let anybody ever tell you, 'No, you're too small.' I have faced that all my life. It's something you have to battle through and conquer."
Second baseman Scott Wingo: "Like coach says, when you work hard you put yourself in an opportunity to do good. It doesn't always guarantee success, but you set yourself up to be in a position to succeed. Just work hard and hope it works out."
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her at twitter.com/yvonnewenger.