COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It was the ultimate battle at Carolina Stadium this weekend.
The Gamecocks hosted Connecticut, and the winner would advance to the College World Series.
After a two-game sweep, the Gamecocks are heading back to Omaha. They beat UConn 5-1 Saturday night and 8-2 Sunday night. "We have the opportunity to go back to Omaha, to the ball park," said Coach Tanner. "I can't say enough good things about Coach Penders and his club, the class and integrity. Springs catching centerfield was absolutely astounding. I saw the Willie Mays catch, and I don't know if it's as good as that one."
Coach Tanner said his kids realized the importance of both games. After Saturday night's win, he knew his team couldn't play the "what if" game. "I didn't have too much time to think about it," said 1st baseman Christian Walker. "I know, as anxious as I am to hit in that situation, and I want to be the guy up, I mean you know someone behind you, especially on this team, is gonna get the job done."
That's because Coach Tanner knows exactly what can happen if you're forced to play a third game.
Back in 2000, the Gamecocks were the number one national seed. They won their first Super Regional game against Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Ragin' Cajuns won the next two, keeping Carolina at home.
The team has gone through a lot of adversity this year, losing some key players to injuries. The players said it's very good to be back in the final eight of college baseball.
The reigning National Champs made it to their ninth Super Regional appearance in the last 12 years, and they conquered it. It's one of four schools - Florida State, Call State Fullerton, and Miami University (Florida) - in the country to have accomplished the feat since the 2000 season.
There was another sellout crowd of 8,000 plus Sunday at Carolina Stadium. Thousands of eyes were watching the field in person and on national TV.
Maintenance crews were busy prepping the two-acre field since 8:00 a.m. It takes 10 people to keep it watered and cut.
One of the workers said the job is a little stressful. "Well because we're on a big stage," said Clark Cox. "This is arguable our biggest stage of the year with this being the Super Regional and last week the Regionals. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where most people are watching the games. We'll have more viewers for these games, not only on TV, but also it'll be a packed house every game. We want it to look out best."
Workers said the 90-degree temperatures forced them to water the grass more than usual, but it looked like it was ready for the game.
All of the USC fans were hoping it would be the final ball game Sunday at the stadium this season, and Gamecock fans were hyped about the final match-up. "Unbelievable...great game, and we're headed to Omaha," said fan DJ Reynolds.
"Watching the whole season, I wasn't sure," said fan Erin Byrd. "It was awesome tonight. It was nice to see them close it out like that. Great ending in the 8th there. Lot's of fun, so we got a badger here rooting for USC.
"My band is on tour," said fan Christian Saville, "While we're going to Omaha we may have to re-route to Omaha. I'd love to be there. I hate I wasn't there last year."
Gamecock fans have been flocking to the university's store for gear.
Workers at Addam's Bookstore on Assembly Street have a baseball section set up near the entrance. They said customers are buying jerseys, ball caps and last year's '"Road to Glory" championship DVD.
Store clerk Byron Boyd said the rush has been exciting. "It's been surprising to me. It's been my first year at Addam's Bookstore, and I've seen the football rush come in and it's been pretty impressive. But the Gamecock fans coming in for baseball has been pretty amazing."
Workers said the "Road to Omaha" shirts should be in by Wednesday.
Fans are already making plans for what will hopefully be a long stay in Omaha.
They're hoping their team's toughness and resilience will bring back another title.
If you're one of the fiercely faithful that want to see that title defense in person, there's some important information you need to be aware of.
It was a busy morning at Forest Lake Travel. "It's been hectic just like last year," said Rocky Douglas, "We get that Gamecock fever going again and you start getting phone calls, asking about Omaha availability. It's starting to get a little tight, a little booked. "
Douglas is familiar with the in's and out's of Omaha and the rush that goes along with it. "This is totally different from football," he said. "Football, you can plan out months in advance. This you have literally days if not hours to plan."
For the road trippers, plan on an 18 hour hike and lots of fast food.
For fliers, a check of ticket prices on priceline.com Monday morning found a $444 flight out of Columbia versus a $250 flight out of Charlotte. Both are one way.
Planning for Omaha is pricey and dicey because you don't how far your team will go. But Douglas said for the faithful, it's not really an option. "If you're a true baseball fan - Gamecock fan - and this is your passion, it could be a once in a lifetime thing," he said. "Last year was a once in a lifetime thing for a lot of people and those that went to see it did not regret it"