COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It doesn’t seem that long ago when South Carolina brought home their first College World Series title.
The Gamecocks (54-16) left Omaha 10 years ago with the first of their two championships following an extra-inning 2-1 win over UCLA.
“I can remember that like it was yesterday,” said former Gamecocks head baseball coach Ray Tanner. “The skies cleared. It was like a breath of fresh air. There was nothing more to plan for. There was nothing more to anticipate. As a coach, I always tried to make sure that I was composed and I was thinking ahead and I was planning for what our team needed to do and try to make sure they knew what was coming up in the next two or three innings or what we were going to need to do. All of a sudden, the skies cleared. There’s no more games. We’ve won the last game at Johnny Rosenblatt [Stadium] and what a special time.
“I thought about Bobby Richardson and June Raines and the program at Carolina and the foundation that had been put in place by those men and those players that came before us because Carolina baseball was really good for a long, long time. It was a traditionally strong program. A lot of good teams and it could’ve been any of those teams. It just happened to be us, but I thought about the people who came before us who gave us an opportunity to be in that moment.”
Tanner, who now serves as the South Carolina athletics director, coached the championship team in 2010. Early on, some may have had their doubts about his team’s championship aspirations after they dropped four of six games early in the season. That included two straight losses to East Carolina on the road.
“I don’t remember a lot of the good times,” Tanner admitted. “I can remember some of the bad times and that was a disappointing weekend. We lost two out of three at East Carolina and I had the utmost respect for East Carolina. You know, they’ve been really good for many years, but I felt extremely disgruntled, irritated, agitated when we returned from Greenville. That just wasn’t the team that I expected to be playing. I could’ve handled losing two out of three. I just didn’t like the way that it happened and I had a hard time getting over it.”
Following the series loss to the Pirates, Tanner held a team meeting to address the matter.
“It’s a time you look back and you laugh a little bit,” Tanner smiled. “I could not swallow what happened in Greenville that weekend for that four-hour-and-20-minute ride back to Columbia. And we got back in the late hours Sunday night and I did sit down with them in the locker room and I went one by one. Whether you played or whether you didn’t play, I had something to say to you as I went around the room. I think the players, they enjoyed it a lot after I departed. I think it was one for the books. I knew that we weren’t going to stay where we were. We were either going to get better or we were going to get worse, but we weren’t going to stay where we were.”
Tanner was right.
The Gamecocks went on to rattle off 13 straight and ultimately finished the regular season as the No. 3 seed heading into the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
As the season went on, Tanner learned that the best way to approach his players was to take on their attitude toward the game.
“I really think that, by that time in my coaching career, I had taken on the personality of my team,” Tanner said. “I think sometimes, you always hear that the team takes on the personality of the coach, but I had probably gone the other way. I think, earlier in my career, it was about preparation. It was about determination. It was about intensity. It was about anxiety and tension. It was about a lot of things that prevent you from being your best and, after having an opportunity to grow with the game and being with the players I was with, that’s not who they were.
“They loved playing the game. They played it the right way. They played it hard, but they didn’t get too uptight about it. Again, when we won a big game, it wasn’t like a three-day celebration. It was like ‘Okay, we won. We’re supposed to win. We’re pretty good.’ When we lost, it was like, ‘Okay, we got beat today, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow. We’re not going to lose 10 in a row. We’ll win tomorrow. So, everything will be okay.’” Carolina went on to drop both contests in Hoover to Ole Miss and Auburn, but the Gamecocks would hardly struggle after that. The team only dropped one game in the NCAA tournament. That was their first game in the College World Series against Oklahoma. But Carolina was barely fazed and it showed in their two games against in-state rival Clemson.
“That was the Michael Roth coming out party,” Tanner said about the Gamecocks’ first contest in the CWS against the Tigers. “He had like 36 appearances in the bullpen. Prior to that game, he hadn’t been a starter and Coach [Mark] Calvi, who is now the head coach at South Alabama, he was very instrumental in making the decision that he felt that we ought to go with Roth, which you’d like to have Roth somewhere between the sixth and the ninth inning to do the combo with Matt Price and John Taylor at the time. He felt that because of the magnitude of that game -- and it was going to be a game of fever pitch. You were in Omaha. You’re also playing your rival. He felt strongly that Michael could be a guy that could get that game started the right way.”
Roth pitched a complete game allowing just three hits and one earned run to help the Gamecocks pick up a much-needed 5-1 win.
“We were thinking, if we got three innings out of him, it would be a great night for us,” Tanner said.
Roth’s performance was one for the ages in Gamecock history. In fact, Tanner has it pretty high on his list.
“It ranks at the top or very near the top,” Tanner said. “I don’t want to lose sight of some other great games. If you go back to the championship game against UCLA, the first one where Blake Cooper struck out 10 in eight innings and had one walk against Gerrit Cole, who we got 11 hits off of in seven innings, [that was] a tremendous outing by Blake Cooper. But what Blake Cooper and Michael Roth did in the College World Series certainly ranks at the top of the list of clutch pitching performances.”
The Gamecocks would close out their title run by making history in the final year of the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Carolina became the first team in College World Series history to win six straight games on their way to capturing a national championship.