Time to set the table for another big day on BN thanks to the UCLA baseball team. It couldn't work out more perfectly as this year's unforgettable college baseball season will come down to a 3 game series between USC (52-16) and UCLA (51-15). Ryan will give us his usual thorough scouting report later this am around 9 am PST. (Hope our team can maintain their focus just like Rye who has been tracking them from all the way out in South Africa). In the meantime, let's go through the today's notes on UCLA's first appearance in the season ending championship series.
We have all read a lot about our team here. So I will start the day with notes on USC. Got a chance to watch good chunks of couple of their games and they seem like an incredibly gritty team. From AP wire:
UCLA will start Orange Lutheran High graduate Cole (11-3), the New York Yankees' 2008 first-round pick, in Game 1. Tanner (USC coach Ray Tanner) didn't say his choice to start. He's deciding among Blake Cooper (12-2), Tyler Webb (3-2) and Jay Brown (3-0). Cooper has started twice in the CWS but would be coming off only three days' rest.
The Gamecocks have won four elimination games to get to this point. They beat Oklahoma in 12 innings after being down to their last strike, and they got an improbable, complete-game, three-hitter from Michael Roth, a career situational reliever called on to start against Clemson on Friday.
South Carolina wasn't a top-10 team in the polls until mid-to-late April. The Gamecocks lost the Southeastern Conference regular-season title on the final weekend against Florida and went two-and-out in the SEC tournament.
They've played four one-run games in the NCAA tournament, winning three of them, including Saturday's 4-3 victory over Clemson.
"We went through a period of time where we really did have trouble scoring runs," Tanner said. "We weren't giving up a lot and we were playing good defense. But we took the mentality that, you know, we've got to win some games late. We're going to have to win some close games."
The LA Times has more on the game with notes on how both UCLA and USC were on the verge of elimination before battling to get to this stage. More after the jump.
It will be interesting to see who gets the start for Gamecocks. Kendall Rogers from rivals.com in his series preview wrote "early indications are that either Tyler Webb (4.00, 36 IP) or Jay Brown (4.44, 50 2/3 IP) will get the nod." Either way, I think the Bruins will have their hands full. There is no way the team can get complacent thinking that a fresh Cole will give us an automatic advantage.
As for Cole, Jon Gold has some interesting comments from the Bruin ace in the Daily News. From his remarks it sounds like Cole and other underclassmen are pretty zoned in and not thinking too much about the surroundings in Omaha:
"The freshman guys, guys like Regis, Amaral - they've never been here before," Cole said. "I mean, I've never been here before, either, and I have no idea what I'm doing. But they really have no idea what they're doing. To be so cool and collected out there is kind of amazing to watch. You can have the guys who hit .420 during the regular season; I'll take the guy who hits .350 and gets the one clutch hit of the day."
What Regis has done so far is simply remarkable. From Michael6636:
ESPN repeats the same tired themes over and while ignoring some pretty obvious stories. For example how about the performance of Cody Regis the last 14 games? This kid is a freshmen, and in his last fourteen games all against NCAA tournaments teams (all but one against teams in the Baseball America top 25) Regis is 19-48 (.396 average) with 15 runs, 16 RBI’s, 3 doubles and 7 home runs. His slugging percentage over that time period is .895, and he has a 12 game hitting streak.
It has been pretty amazing to see this kid chipping away at second base having to replace a superstar and emotional sparkplug like Tyler Rahmatulla in the biggest stage of this game:
Cole's battery mate Steve Rodriguez shared his thoughts about Bruin aces locked in:
"As far as the focus, being in every pitch, pitch-to-pitch, it's been unbelievable. Just how they've been able to gather themselves, how into the moment they are. They don't get caught up into it. They are absolutely into the pitch."
I also think Ras is due for a good series. He struggled in his last outing after sitting out more than a week. I imagine he is going to be pretty determined to display his "stopper" mindset he had shown all season long pulling out huge series clinching wins for Bruins through the regular season and the tournament.
Going back to what matters most, which is today's game, hopefully Cole and co. will be able to maintain that focus as they take on USC this evening (first pitch is scheduled for 4:30 pm PST). The game thread will go up about half an hour before first pitch.