OMAHA—Ray Tanner stood silently in front of the third-base dugout at TD Ameritrade Park, watching Arizona celebrate its College World Series Finals sweep of his South Carolina team.
Finally, Tanner ducked into the tunnel and made his way toward the postgame press conference.
"Golly," he said wistfully, as he walked up the tunnel. "If we'd just gotten a couple of hits, we'd have evened this thing up."
The Gamecocks had their chances in the late innings of Game Two of the Finals, which they lost 4-1. After tying the score at 1-1 in the seventh, South Carolina had the go-ahead run at second with two outs, but Tanner English flew out to center to strand the runner. The next inning, the Gamecocks had the go-ahead run at third with two outs, but Joey Pankake struck out to end the frame.
And after Arizona scored three runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead, the Gamecocks loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the frame, but English lined out and Grayson Greiner flew out to end the game, stranding all three runners.
"I knew going into this thing we were playing a team that had hit about .330 on the year. We were hitting probably .270 going in," Tanner said. "And I think we were averaging 3.75 runs in the postseason; we were only averaging three here in the College World Series. And we're playing in the championship series. Eventually, that's going to get you. And in the end, if you had to put your finger on one thing, it's run output. We just didn't get enough runs on the board."
In seven CWS games, South Carolina hit .205 as a team and averaged 2.7 runs per game. Arizona hit .282 during its 5-0 run to the title, averaging 5.4 runs per game.
Considering South Carolina's lack of offensive firepower, it's a testament to the quality of their pitching, defense and leadership that they were able to return to the CWS Finals for the third straight year. No team has had a better three-year run in the last three decades. South Carolina went 30-4 in the NCAA tournament over the last three years, including a 22-game postseason winning streak that encompassed a pair of national titles.
But when a reporter asked Tanner if the accomplishments of the past three years soothed the disappointment of losing at all, South Carolina ace Michael Roth vigorously shook his head no.
Roth and closer Matt Price were the pillars of South Carolina's three-year run, and they left their names all over the CWS record book. On Monday, that duo stood in the way of Arizona's first championship since 1986. Roth kept the potent Wildcats at bay into the seventh, allowing just one run, but they finally got to Price for that three-run rally in the ninth. In order to dethrone the two-time champs, Arizona needed to win a game in which both Roth and Price pitched. Talk about earning it the hard way.
"Michael Roth's a legend—he's as good as I've seen in postseason, seriously," Arizona coach Andy Lopez said. "Their closer, my God. I just think, I will go to bed tonight—if I do sleep—and know in my heart that, boy, we were fortunate enough to win against an outstanding pitching staff and an outstanding program."
Roth and Price will head to pro ball now, as will fellow mainstays Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli and Adam Matthews. But the Gamecocks are loaded with young talent all over the diamond, led by freshmen Pankake, Greiner and English.
"They're going to be great," Roth said. "You've got coach Tanner and the rest of the staff. I mean, without the talented freshmen we had this year, we wouldn't be in the position we are right now. So they're excellent. And with the guys they're bringing in, I'm sure they're going to be great."
Maybe the Gamecocks will find their way back to Omaha next year, but even if they do, Monday marked the end of an era. And not just for South Carolina, but for all of college baseball. The final year of the Rosenblatt Stadium/BESR bat era and the first year of the TD Ameritrade Park/BBCOR bat era will always be identified with Roth and Price, more than anyone else. They captivated the college baseball world for three years, and they elevated South Carolina's program to remarkable heights.
"The players come and go. But then you have guys that have tremendous roots in your program, and these guys do," Tanner said. "There's a tremendous void. Not because of how successful they've been—certainly that's a part of it. But these guys are, you know, they're like an extension of our staff. These guys take ownership. They have for a long time. And that's the part that's going to be most difficult."
• Just three teams landed players on the CWS all-tournament team. Arizona had six representatives led by Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder, while South Carolina had three and Florida State had two. The 11-man team: C Riley Moore, Arizona; 1B Christian Walker, South Carolina; 2B Devon Travis, Florida State; 3B Sherman Johnson, Florida State; SS Alex Mejia, Arizona; OF Evan Marzilli, South Carolina; OF Joey Rickard, Arizona; OF Robert Refsnyder, Arizona; DH Bobby Brown, Arizona; P Michael Roth, South Carolina; P Konner Wade, Arizona.
• Lopez became just the second coach to win national titles at two different schools (he also led Pepperdine to the championship 20 years ago). He joins Augie Garrido (who won three titles at Cal State Fullerton and two at Texas) in that club. "I'm proud to say Coach Lopez is my coach," Refsnyder said. "I can't imagine learning something more from one person throughout my three years at Arizona . . . Lopez gave us, gave myself and the junior class this year, the tools to do what he wanted and how to be successful."
• Arizona tied Cal State Fullerton and Miami with its fourth national title. Only Southern California (12), Louisiana State and Texas (six apiece) and Arizona State (five) have won more championships.
• The Wildcats were one of the nation's best offensive teams in 2012, but their pitching was superb during the NCAA tournament. During their perfect 10-0 run through the postseason, Arizona pitchers posted a 1.91 ERA in 94 innings. They put up a team ERA of 1.13 in 48 innings over five games in Omaha. Arizona became just the third team to win the national title without ever trailing in the CWS. The other two were Texas (in three games in 1949) and LSU (in four games in 1991).
• Brandon Dixon's go-ahead RBI double in the ninth was just the second extra-base hit allowed by Price during his CWS career, spanning 26 1/3 innings. It snapped Price's 20 1/3 inning scoreless streak in Omaha. Price owns the CWS record for most career wins (five) and tied Texas' J. Brent Cox for most career appearances (13).
• This time around, Price was just South Carolina's second-best reliever in the postseason. Lefthander Tyler Webb did not allow a run in the postseason, and in fact has not allowed a run in 21 2/3 career NCAA tournament innings.
• Roth finished with CWS records for career innings (60 1/3), starts (eight) and hit batsmen (seven). His 1.49 career ERA in Omaha is the fifth-lowest among pitchers with at least 30 CWS innings.
• The combination of BBCOR bats and configuration of the new ballpark, where the wind generally blows in, has suppressed offense in Omaha to an extreme deegree. The combined batting average of all eight CWS teams this year was .234, the lowest at the CWS since 1974 (.227). And the loser has scored four runs or fewer in each of the last 36 games at the CWS, dating back to June 24, 2010. That streak easily surpassed the previous longest in CWS history—24 straight games, set in 1954-55 and equaled in 1973-75.
• The average attendance in year two of TD Ameritrade declined to 21,782 per game, down from 22,977 a year ago. The final game drew 23,872, nearly 3,000 fewer than the final game in 2011 (26,721).
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