South Carolina bucks recent history in return to Omaha
COLUMBIA — It is a significant accomplishment that South Carolina even got back to the College World Series after winning the last two national championships.
The Gamecocks last season became the sixth team to ever win back-to-back titles. But just two others were able to return to Omaha, Neb., to go for a third straight championship.
Southern California returned in 1972 and won its third of five straight titles. LSU returned in 1998 and won its first two games before dropping back-to-back games to Southern Cal, the eventual national champions (for the first time since 1978).
Texas missed the World Series in 1951 after winning two straight titles, as did Stanford in 1989 and Oregon State in 2008.
Even Southern Cal wasn’t able to reach Omaha in 1975 to go for its sixth straight title. The Trojans didn’t even make the regional final that year, going 1-2 and assuring that there were not two USCs in Omaha, as the Gamecocks made their first trip in 1975 and finished second.
Zunino poses threat
Florida’s best player is junior catcher Mike Zunino, one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the top amateur player in the country. He was the third overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, going to the Seattle Mariners, where former USC first baseman and Stratford High graduate Justin Smoak now plays.
Zunino has 19 home runs this season, tied for fourth nationally, and 64 runs batted in. His batting average is .322 and his on-base plus slugging percentage is 1.068. By comparison, last year’s major league leader in OPS, Toronto’s Jose Bautista, had a 1.056.
USC ace pitcher Michael Roth will start Saturday’s World Series opener against the Gators, as he did in the teams’ first regular season meeting. Zunino went 0 for 2 with a walk against Roth. Later in the game, Zunino struck out against closer Matt Price.
In Zunino’s other three games against USC this season, he went 3 for 10 with eight RBIs, four runs, a walk and a strikeout. He had a two-run homer and two three-run shots.
Junior center fielder Evan Marzilli has been a valuable asset for the Gamecocks this season. He ranks third on the team with a .288 batting average, has a team-best 12 stolen bases (on 16 attempts) and made just two errors while being one of two players to start all 62 games, along with third baseman LB Dantzler.
Marzilli proved to be a more-than-capable replacement for Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. Bradley was the best professional prospect on last year’s team, and USC coach Ray Tanner believes Marzilli also has a good shot at reaching the highest level, if he overcomes one obstacle. (Marzilli was drafted in the eighth round by Arizona and likely will turn pro).
“Marzilli’s got a ways to go,” Tanner said. “He’s got some mechanical flaws, but if he figures them out, he’s in the big leagues because he runs, he’s a good defender, he can throw. He’s going to have a little more power as he gets older. He has a little swing flaw in there that gets him, but if he gets it all figured out, there’s nothing that’s going to hold him back.”