If you had told me two months ago that UVa and USC would be playing in the winner's bracket game in the College World Series I would have said, "Yep, sounds about right." Coming into the week most have expected UVa and USC to be playing in this game and for one of these two to be playing in the Championship Series next week. Heck, I even predicted it last week in my interview with The Pulse on Campus (I know, big limb I went out on).
USC comes into the College World Series ranked among the elite the entire season and into the game tonight with an impressive 51-14 record. They ended the SEC play in a three-way tie with fellow Omaha winners Florida and Vanderbilt for the best record in the league (22-8) but earned the #1 seed having won the series against both the Commodores and the Gators.
In the NCAA tournament the Gamecocks were rewarded with the #4 overall seed and haven't looked back on their trek to Omaha. They swept through their regional defeating Stetson and Georgia Southern along the way. In the super regional they dismantled UConn in two games and earned their second straight trip to the College World Series.
On the mound, USC is lead by Michael Roth. Fortunately, for UVa fans, Roth pitched more than 120 pitches on Sunday night against Texas A&M. On Tuesday, USC will send Sophomore RHP Colby Holmes to the mound. Holmes has been fairly impressive this year going 7-3 with a 3.78 ERA. Holmes has struggled as of late and was only able to go 4.1 innings in the decisive super regional game against UConn. In the pen, like the 'Hoos, USC has an impressive underclassman closer in Sophomore Matt Price. Price has been a stalwart for USC racking up a 6-3 record and 18 saves in the 32 games he has appeared in. He's got a decent 2.13 ERA but has struck out 68 in his 50 innings. This team is impressive on the mound and will be the best staff UVa has faced all year. They have the 5th best team ERA and Batting Average Against in the country and will be a formidable opponent for the UVa offense.
This team is no slouch at the plate either. They've got a .297 batting average and have hit 45 home runs this year (UVa: .307 and 24). There is no doubt who they are lead by though. Tabbed as a third-team All-American by Baseball America and second team All-SEC, Sophomore 1b Christian Walker has been amazing this year. Walker has amassed a .357 average, 61 runs, 60 RBIs, and 10 HRs! If you can show me better numbers from a first baseman I would be surprised. The other player to worry about most will be spark plug Jackie Bradley Jr. Most expected him to be catalyst for the Gamecocks all year long but an injury has sidelined him for most of the year and has only recently resurfaced. He was selected 40th overall in this year's draft after only playing 37 games during the regular season. Keeping Bradley and Walker will be a key for the UVa pitching staff.
When you get to Omaha you have to play the best. This is what UVa is going to have to do from here on out. Cal was a good team, USC is an elite team. Nobody on the team will remember 2006 but many of the fans should. USC came to Charlottesville in the regionals and took care of the 'Hoos. Coach O'Connor would like nothing more than getting a little revenge on the Gamecocks for that loss.
This game is really a toss up. Both teams have exceptional pitching, hitting, and defense. USC is the defending national champions but much of the UVa team played on the biggest stage in 2009 so I can't say that is a big factor. I don't think anyone can disagree that either of these teams could win this game but I of course have to give the nod to our boys (I feel like Herbstreit picking the Buckeyes) given that they are just a little better at the plate.
Game starts (tentatively) at 7 PM on ESPN. Wear your orange, wear your blue, pray that the rain/tornadoes hold off, and cheer on the boys from wherever you're watching the game from. I'll be on twitter posting my thoughts and of course, Go Hoos!