Defending College World Series champions apparently doesn't mean very much. After all, South Carolina took home the title last year and came into this season as a national title afterthought. Sure, they were ranked, but they were rarely mentioned among the teams that could compete for the national title. That's definitely not the case anymore. As the SEC regular season co-champions and number four national seed, the Gamecocks have a chance to become just the second team to win back-to-back NCAA titles in the Super Regional era.
Three teams from the SEC East tied for the conference regular season title. All three earned national seeds and all three advanced to Omaha. South Carolina is one of the three and they have the advantage in Omaha because the other two, Florida and Vanderbilt, are in the other bracket. While bracket one is stacked with four national seeds, the Gamecocks are in bracket two, which has a non-national seed and a team that was seeded third in their Regional. If nothing else, USC sure got the bracket to best make a run at another national title.
The Gamecocks got to Omaha with a thoroughly dominating postseason. It started with a perfect 3-0 run through the Regional that they hosted and was followed up by a Super Regional visit from Connecticut. What was clear was that the Huskies stood no chance as the Gamecocks disposed of them 5-1 and 8-2 to book their ticket to the College World Series.
While South Carolina may have taken some offense to being left out of the national title discussion before the season, it is not hard to figure out why they weren't seriously discussed. Defending champions or not, the Gamecocks had to replace two weekend starters and four of their position players. Things just got tougher midseason too when the Gamecocks lost their best player, Jackie Bradley Jr., to a wrist injury. That's not the recipe to defend a national title, at least so we thought.
Nobody is going to accuse the Gamecocks of having an incredible offense. Without Bradley Jr. they are one power bat short, but they have their share of hitters. Christian Walker led the team in batting average, RBI and home runs so they have a guy that will scare opposing pitchers. There isn't anyone else in the offense with power that will scare opposing pitchers, but the strength of the USC offense is in their depth with nine different players who have at least three home runs to provide enough runs for the pitching staff.
Michael Roth has anchored the South Carolina starting rotation and he's done one hell of a job leading the staff. He's backed up by Forrest Koumas and in those two the Gamecocks have two starting pitchers they can lean on. The question is what they do after those two. Colby Holmes has been merely adequate as the third starter and if they have to go to a fourth starter, the Gamecocks could be in trouble.
Whoever is starting for South Carolina, it will be imperative that he eats up innings. With John Taylor and Matt Price, the Gamecocks have two bullpen arms they can go to for outs and Jose Mata has been effective as well. There isn't much else in the bullpen though. There is a definite lack of depth in the bullpen so if they're leaned upon just a little too much it can only go poorly for the defending champs.
Probable Starters For Opening Two Games
Michael Roth, Forrest Koumas - Roth has anchored the South Carolina starting rotation and he's done one hell of a job leading the staff. He's gone 13-3 with a 1.02 ERA and just .213 batting average against. Koumas has stepped up behind him in the number two spot with a 3.07 ERA and given the Gamecocks a one-two punch that can get the job done.
Christian Walker - When you lead your team in nearly every major offensive category, you're the key player. Walker hit .359 this year with 10 homers, 60 RBI and he's struck out just 28 times in 248 at-bats. He's the big bat in the South Carolina lineup and a guy who can turn an average inning into a big one single-handedly.
While Virginia may be the favorites to win bracket two, South Carolina is the second favorite and could very well get past the Cavaliers. The only real negative the Gamecocks have is the depth of their pitching, which will become a big problem if they have to come through the loser's bracket. With that hanging over their heads, a second-place finish in bracket two seems most likely.