Gamecocks primed to follow up on title run
COLUMBIA -- Leading South Carolina to an SEC championship and the current No. 1 ranking despite a slew of injuries, Ray Tanner was named the league's coach of the year on Tuesday.
The top-seeded Gamecocks (44-12) open play in the SEC tournament at 5:30 p.m. today (Comcast Sports Southeast) against Auburn (29-27).
A completely new starting rotation, one that evolved throughout the year, and injuries to key players such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and Adam Matthews, did not derail USC's follow-up to the 2010 national title.
The team won every SEC series, with the exception of one at Mississippi,
and that included series wins against Florida and Vanderbilt.
USC coach Ray Tanner was emotional Saturday after his team clinched a share of the conference title, the first time that's happened since 2002.
"For the guys to end up where they did, I couldn't be more proud of the group of young men," Tanner said Monday, before the team left for Hoover, Ala. "That's tremendous. We had a lot of reasons not to win as many games, or win less than we've won, and these guys just teed it up every day. They were ready to go."
As Tanner pointed out, and as was the case a year ago, pitching remained consistent throughout the season. The Gamecocks' 2.64 team ERA is second in the league and 10th in the country, even though veterans Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson were gone from the rotation and a few bullpen cogs were shifted around.
Junior left-hander Michael Roth did more than his share to make that ERA as low as it was. Roth went from left-handed specialist to ace, and did so with ease. He finished the regular season 10-3 with a 1.28 ERA in a staggering 98 2/3 innings after he pitched just 24 innings in the regular season in 2010.
Roth lost his last two starts, despite giving up just two earned runs in those outings, and that likely cost him the SEC pitcher of the year honor, which went to Vanderbilt's Grayson Garvin (11-1, 2.32 ERA in 89 1/3 innings).
Still, Roth was named a first-team All-SEC pitcher, along with USC closer Matt Price and second baseman Scott Wingo. First baseman Christian Walker was a second-team pick.
Walker, Wingo and Bradley were named to the all-defensive team, and right-hander Forrest Koumas, likely to start Thursday, was named to the all-freshman team.
Price was second in the SEC, and tied for sixth in the country, with 15 saves. The redshirt sophomore, a preseason All-American, also won five games and gave up 12 earned runs during the year, six of which came in one rocky outing at Clemson.
Wingo, long a defensive specialist, was steady at the plate as a senior. He was second on the team with a .340 average, behind only Walker's .358. Wingo had three walk-off hits during the season, including a ninth-inning home run against Arkansas during the final regular season home series.
With a regional berth already in its back pocket, South Carolina is looking this week to sew up a top eight national seed and the prospect of hosting the first super regional in Columbia since 2004.