Michael Roth, Reptar the fish will lead South Carolina Gamecocks to third College World Series title
There is a ceiling hovering over the 2012 South Carolina baseball team, as ominous as dark gray Nebraska sky. The Gamecocks have handled the Clemsons and Oklahomas of the world but the two-time defending College World Series champions in 2012 have not won a series against a team ranked higher than No. 19 on the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index list.
At No. 11, South Carolina in its CWS opener today in Omaha will tangle with No. 2 Florida. No. 1 UCLA and No. 3 Florida State are on the other side of a juicy bracket.
Of course, RPI computers malfunction when splashed with aquarium water or Michael Roth's earned run average.
South Carolina will threepeat in Omaha, squeezing by top national seed Florida before edging upstart crowd favorite Stony Brook in the CWS Finals.
Florida went 3-1 against South Carolina this season, and all the games were outside Gainesville. But the Gamecocks' lone win was a Roth no-decision and the senior ace went 2-0 against the Gators in 2011 (winning at Florida and in Omaha).
The dugout back-and-forth between Roth and head coach Ray Tanner after the seventh inning of Saturday night's 5-0 victory over Oklahoma in Game 1 of the Super Regional revealed trust, pride and competiveness.
Tanner: “You're missing up a little.”
Roth: “No, I'm still good.”
Tanner: “Hey, if you're tired, let's be honest here.”
Roth: “No, I feel good.”
Tanner: “You've earned the right to have your say in it.”
Roth: “I'm good. I want to go back out. Let me go until somebody gets on base.”
Tanner: “I don't want anybody on base.”
Roth gave up a hit and was removed with two outs but got the loudest curtain call in Carolina Stadium history.
Tonight, the Gamecocks in a rematch of the 2011 CWS Finals immediately put Florida in the losers' bracket.
The Gamecocks match up well with Arkansas; they won twice in a three-game series at Fayetteville in May. A frugal South Carolina college baseball budget allows only one regular season airline trip and that was it. The Gamecocks also flew to Omaha and will fly by the Razorbacks.
The winners' bracket means two days off, and another clash with Florida. Roth will probably start here; he went against Virginia on four days' rest in Omaha last year. But the Gators put up a fight and win an extra-inning game in a Roth no-decision.
A third game with Florida, the seventh of the season. By now, USC has been on the road a while. But the first-year players have adjusted well this season, with the turning point coming during the Reptar Series at Auburn.
You probably know the “Fear the Fish” tale by now: Third baseman LB Dantzler had to make do when the babysitter for his pet betta fish was out of town, so he put Reptar in a Tupperware container and took the little guy on the bus to Auburn. The fish named for Tommy Pickles' dinosaur pal in “Rugrats” cartoons spent the series in the bullpen, USCswept and Dantzler led the way on offense.
South Carolina advances to the best-of-three CWS Finals.
Sunday, June 24
Stony Brook has a great cold-weather underdog story, maybe the best in CWS history. The seniors remember traveling to Coastal Carolina for a 36-3 beating in 2009. But the Seawolves are SEC-caliber good, with seven players picked in the major league draft this month.
Roth wins a close Game 1.
Monday, June 25
Remember Baton Rouge? Stony Brook is too good for the dusty end of a sweep.
Tuesday, June 26
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff