By now, South Carolina Gamecocks fans know there are various ways to get to Omaha. Fly. That long drive through Knoxville, Paducah and St. Louis. Perhaps a scenic route via Tupelo, or Dyersville.
Some of the players representing the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks have different travel tales, too.
Connor Bright, a freshman infielder, must think a College World Series trip comes with a signature on the garnet dotted line.
Brison Celek, a junior designated hitter, knows the pain and prosperity of patience.
Both former Lowcountry high school standouts checked into the Omaha Hilton this week, but their paths do not mimic extremely similar 2012 statistics.
“It’s obviously exciting to come to a program like this,” said Bright, a Wando High School graduate. “For me to get to go to Omaha is just a great experience.”
Celek, a former Bishop England High School catcher, did not make the Gamecocks’ College World Series travel squad his first two seasons at South Carolina. No one on the team was happier to board the charter flight Wednesday.
“This is a dream come true,” Celek said. “I’ve waited a couple years for this and it’s just really special.”
In the regular season, Bright and Celek appeared in 28 games apiece. Both had eight RBIs.
Bright hit .235. Celek hit .228.
Celek didn’t play in the Columbia Regional or Super Regional this month but made 11 starts at designated hitter over 15 midseason games.
During the stretch, he had a two-run double in a win at Vanderbilt, an eighth-inning double in a 7-6 victory over Mississippi State and went 2 for 4 during a 7-0 victory at the College of Charleston.
“Everybody does their job, and when different players get their chances, they come through,” said Celek, who helped Bishop England win two state championships and played on a Mount Pleasant-based Diamond Devils travel team that won a 17U World Wood Bat Association national championship. “It’s happened like that all season. It worked out.”
Bright, the son of former PGA tour pro Mike Bright, did not have an extra-base hit during the regular year.
But he doubled twice in the NCAA tournament, once in a 4-3 victory over Clemson in the Columbia Regional clincher and again to ignite the South Carolina scoring Monday during a 5-1 win over Oklahoma in Super Regional Game 2.
Bright went to bed Sunday night knowing he was the next Gamecock up in a scoreless game delayed by rain for 20 hours before the Sooners’ bottom of the sixth inning.
He slept well. “Long rain delay, holding over until the next day,” Bright said. “You’re just looking to get the team started.”
Oklahoma opened the re-started game with closer Steven Okert.
“It’s just another at-bat,” Bright said. “You just want to get a good pitch to hit. Unfortunately, I got into a 2-2 count.”
Boom, a long looping drive pushed into the right-field corner.
Head coach Ray Tanner says his freshmen “aren’t really freshmen anymore.” No doubt, Bright speaks a veteran language.
“There’s no pressure,” he said. “We expect to go (to the College World Series) every year. We just play our game, and luckily we’ve had three years in a row of going to Omaha.”
This third trip is anchored by the veteran savvy of guys like Michael Roth, Matt Price and Christian Walker.
But the different paths to Omaha also include the precociousness of freshmen and the perseverance of Celek, the happiest passenger on South Carolina’s charter flight.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.