If it had to happen -- if South Carolina had to lose to a program outside the SEC in the College World Series -- then it might as well have come in a loss to Arizona. And it had to happen, as anyone who follows sports knows. Nothing lasts forever.
It doesn't really take the sting out of it, really. The fact that the always-slumbering South Carolina bats went comatose just when the runs were needed most. The fact that a team with a superb defense suddenly forgot how to field. And the fact that a pitching team that had always pitched more than good enough finally came up a bit short of good enough.
But then there's Andy Lopez, one of the classiest guys in college baseball, nodding to the "modern-day dynasty" as his team wins again. There's a guy that's gone through a 20-year drought after winning it all, gone 14 years without even making it to Omaha, leading a program that hasn't won it in a quarter of a century to the top of the college baseball world. If South Carolina had to lose -- if there was no other choice -- then it might as well be this year, and it might as well be to Arizona.
Really, it shouldn't even have come to this. With a young team and a 1-5 start in SEC play, just getting to the NCAA tournament should have been viewed as a wildly successful season. Moving the Gamecocks' record-long tournament winning streak to 22 before finally dropping a game to Arkansas was implausible. Going back through the losers' bracket by winning three games in 36 hours to get to the finals seemed impossible.
South Carolina's magic just ran out once they got there. Even Michael Roth and Matt Price, a duo left over from the Gamecocks' first championship in 2010, couldn't completely shut down Arizona.It just happened to be the other team's night.
There's nothing to be ashamed of in Columbia. Back-to-back-to-back appearances in the College World Series' final game is rare enough. It hasn't happened since the finals format was introduced in 2003; the last time it did happen was in 1983-85, when Texas won one and then lost two. Just because you don't win doesn't mean it's not worth it; for South Carolina fans, getting there was truly half the fun.
Arizona is the team that I, as a fan, would most like to lose to. But when it comes to winning, there's no group of players I would rather my program do it with than the guys who have come through Columbia over the last three years.