It was a running theme throughout South Carolina’s three-year run in Omaha – they’re good, but the University of <insert name here> is loaded. The Gamecocks have no chance.
That was pretty much the story as USC prepared to take on UCLA in the National Championship Series. First, we had to face the Bruins’ rested, flame-throwing Gerrit Cole while we countered with Blake Cooper, whose fastball topped out at 86 mph on his best day. After that loss, if we could somehow miraculously squeeze out a victory in Game 2 then we had to go up against UCLA’s other major-leaguer-in-waiting, the flaky Trevor Bauer.
The Gamecocks pounced early in Game 1 against Cole, scoring five runs in the first three innings on a series of bunts, bleeders, duck snorts (thanks Coach Tanner) and Bruin miscues. Meanwhile, light-hitting Bobby Haney was the offensive star of the night, going 2-3 and driving in three runs.
But the story was Cooper. Working on three days rest for the second time in the tournament, he admitted he didn’t have his best stuff. But the arm fatigue turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Cooper said he felt his fastball had more sink on it and the UCLA hitters had trouble squaring it up. He cruised through eight innings giving up only three hits and one run. John Taylor finished the Bruins off in the ninth for a 7-1 Gamecock victory, and they were one win away from their first National Championship.
After all the drama of the Oklahoma and Clemson games, it was nice to have a relative “breather” in the first game of the championship series.
But drama was just around the corner. In spades.
NEXT: CWS Championship Game 2 – Glory