Few teams have been as close to elimination as UCLA and South Carolina and managed to survive. Now, those teams will be rewarded with the chance to play for a national title in the final College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. After making it through the Regionals, Super Regionals and then their brackets in the College World Series, the two teams will now square off in the Championship Series, a best two of three set to crown a national title.
For UCLA it was the Super Regionals that put them on the brink of elimination. Having dropped the first game of their Super Regional versus Cal St. Fullerton, the Bruins found themselves down a run in game two with two outs in the ninth inning. One out away from elimination, the Bruins got a runner on base before Tyler Rahmatulla smacked one over the fence for a season-changing home run. It took extra innings, but the Bruins were able to hold on versus the Titans and advance to the College World Series despite being one out away from elimination just a day before.
The Gamecocks had an easy time getting to Omaha, sweeping their Regional and Super Regional. It wasn't until the College World Series began for them that they ran into trouble, losing their opener to Oklahoma. From there, they had to beat the number one national seed, Arizona St., beat the Oklahoma team that bested them earlier in 12 innings and then defeat Clemson twice, the final time in a tight one-run ballgame. Needing to win four consecutive games to advance out of their bracket and to the Championship Series, the Gamecocks defeated the odds and will play for the national title.
Gerrit Cole gets the nod for the Bruins in their Championship Series and will look to build upon his fantastic start earlier in the College World Series. The right-hander mowed down the powerful TCU lineup, striking out 13 Horned Frogs and walking just two in eight strong innings. He ran into seventh inning trouble when he surrendered a two-out triple that brought home three, but that was the only time he took his licks in the ballgame en route to the Bruins' 6-3 win.
Cole showed off the incredible velocity that he is so well know for, working three different fastballs in the game to great effect. His cut fastball was in the low 90's running in on the left-hander's, while his two-seam fastball sat at 94 or 95 mph with a run to it that made things difficult against both right-hander's and left-hander's. His third fastball was the four-seam fastball that wowed watchers, popping over 95 mph consistently and hitting 98 mph upon occasion. He mixed in his slider, a hard breaking pitch that he leans upon for his offspeed pitch. Cole also has a change up, one he's developed throughout the season and has shown flashes of brilliance, but the pitch gave him trouble versus TCU and may not be used too much versus the Gamecocks.
After Cole on Monday, the Bruins aren't quite sure who they will turn to the rest of the way. Odds are Rob Rasmussen gets the ball on Tuesday, but the left-hander didn't have his best stuff. Walking in a run in the first inning was just the start for Rasmussen and by the time he had exited the game after 4.1 innings, he'd let three runs come across. Even so, Rasmussen had the best ERA of the Bruins, weekend starters, a group that finished second in the nation in ERA. The question for Rasmussen will be how fresh his arm is, having to throw with fewer days rest than usual after throwing 95 pitches versus the Horned Frogs
Besides Rasmussen, Garett Claypool is an option to start. The senior relieved Rasmussen on Friday and allowed three runs in 3.2 innings, all of them late on in the game. Claypool's stint on the mound versus TCU was his first appearance for the Bruins in 26 days, putting him in a bit of a hole, but he did have 2.05 ERA during the regular season as the Tuesday starter and led the Pac-10 in batting average against.
Should Wednesday's contest be necessary, the Bruins would likely turn to Trevor Bauer on short rest. Bauer led UCLA to the Championship Series with a dominating performance over TCU, striking out 13 to pick up his 12th win of the season. That was on the heels of an 11 strikeout performance of Florida in the Bruins' College World Series opener, a win for UCLA. As is the case with Rasmussen, how fresh Bauer is will be of great interest, pitching on short rest after throwing 135 pitches on Saturday.
South Carolina has gotten through the College World Series with a mish-mash pitching staff as they piece together whatever they have. Such is the case when a team comes through the loser's bracket, but USC got great work from their pitchers who were put in tough spots.
Sam Dyson played the role of hero for the Gamecocks on Saturday, throwing a gem to get USC to the Championship Series. On short rest, Dyson allowed just two runs in 6.2 innings versus the hot-hitting Clemson Tigers. His 111 pitches versus Clemson puts his availability in doubt until the tail of the Championship Series, but his determination and toughness to pitch on short rest won't be in question should he be called into action.
The Gamecocks' other hero is Michael Roth, a reliever who got a start because USC didn't have anyone else. Roth faced elimination for the Gamecocks and all he did was throw a complete game, allowing one run on four hits. One thing going for South Carolina is their ability to throw their ace on full or near-full rest. Blake Cooper went 12-2 with a 2.86 ERA on the year as one of the SEC"s best pitchers and despite not matching those numbers in his two College World Series starts, the Gamecocks will be confident when their senior takes to the hill.
Neither UCLA nor South Carolina is too much of a threat at the plate, although both have flashed excellence at points. The Bruins lean upon everybody for their runs without much of a power source to depend on. Beau Amaral has been sensational in the postseason and many believe him to be a leading candidate for the Most Outstanding Player award. The same goes for Cody Regis, who has upped his power in the postseason, while adjusting admirably to second base in the College World Series after spending the entire season at third base.
On the other hand, South Carolina does have a big bopper to lean on. Jackie Bradley Jr. has emerged as one of the nation's best hitters, hitting.375 with 13 homers and 60 RBI, while also showing patience in walking 40 times. With Bradley in the middle of the lineup, South Carolina has the confidence in hitting the game-changing home run, something that becomes a necessity at times because they do struggle to hit the ball. With just a .301 batting average and little speed on the bases, the Gamecocks can go through run-scoring droughts.
Defensively, the two teams are nearly equal, but the edge in the series could go to the UCLA bullpen. With Dan Klein, Erik Goeddel and Matt Grace all available, the Bruins have a trio that the Gamecocks cannot match. South Carolina does have Matt Price, a legitimate shutdown closer, but they lack much else at the end of games. Toss in the UCLA bullpen being far fresher than the USC relievers and you have an edge that could decide the series.