South Carolina will need its pitching staff to live up to the hype if they expect to win a third straight College World Series.
South Carolina vs. Arizona, 8 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2; 8 p.m. ET Monday, ESPN; 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN (if necessary)
|SOUTH CAROLINA vs. ARIZONA|
Sometimes, it's too easy to make championship games into a story of offense vs. defense, or offense vs. pitching in the case of baseball. After all, most teams that get to the final round of their sport can score when they have to and stop the other team from scoring when they need to.
But cliche or not, it's not just South Carolina's two-year reign over college baseball against Arizona's undefeated run through Omaha this year that represents a "something's-gotta-give" dynamic to this year's College World Series Championship Series. The Gamecocks and the Wildcats have pursued very different paths to the final even of the season, and one of those methods is going to end up winning it all over the next three days.
For the defending national champions, it's been pitching. Behind arms like Michael Roth and Matt Price, the Gamecock's pitching staff has limited opponents to less than three earned runs a game and given up fewer walks and hits per inning than any other team in college baseball. Arizona, meanwhile, has clubbed its way to the brink of a title. The Wildcats have scored the fifth-most runs in the country and rank tenth in OPS.
Things haven't been that much different in the College World Series. Arizona has scored at least four runs a game -- not a small number in college baseball today -- in each of its outings in Omaha, finishing the bracket with a 10-3 demolition of Florida State. South Carolina scored three or fewer runs in three of its five games, the exceptions being a 7-3 win against Florida in its first game and a 4-1 defeat of Kent State in an elimination game. The showdown with the Gators was the last time South Carolina's opponent scored more than two in the College World Series.
The issue for South Carolina if there is one is that some of their best pitchers won't be available early in the series after they were called on just to get the team out of the losers' bracket. The Gamecocks are throwing Forrest Koumas tonight; he's pitched just 25.2 innings all year.
You'll also hear a lot about South Carolina's defense -- in part because it's truly been exceptional, and in part because the very flawed statistical measure of fielding percentage looks good to television producers. The Wildcats are 97th in the country in fielding percentage -- but, again, that statistic isn't the only way to measure a defense. (Sabermetricians are still trying to figure out how to account for defense, and the field of sabermetrics is relatively new to college baseball in any case.)
Which brings us back to the old cliches. If it's true that pitching and defense win baseball titles, then the Gamecocks have to be given the advantage this week. But the Wildcats haven't come this far by scoring only against bad pitching, and the Arizona offense will be a formidable opponent as South Carolina looks for its third straight title.