South Carolina won its second straight College World Series title last night, defeating Florida 5-2. It was a much less exciting game than either Monday night’s thriller or the clinching game of last year’s CWS, both won by the Gamecocks.
But it was the kind of game we have come to expect from South Carolina this year. Ace Michael Roth confused hitters with his arm angle and solid command. The Gamecocks played good defense and got enough hitting at the right time to win.
I’m a bit surprised South Carolina won, but not stunned. Florida was more talented and for much of Game 1 on Monday, it felt like the Gators would prevail. But when South Carolina worked out of a bases loaded jam with no outs and the game on the line, it became clear the Gamecocks were going to go back to Columbia with another trophy.
But with another college baseball season over, it is time for what is apparently becoming a tradition of mine: picking the field of next year’s College World Series 50 weeks in advance.
Last year, I got four picks correct (North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Florida). I feel pretty good about getting half the field, but I’m sure I can do better this year.
So before the last fans clear out of Omaha, here’s my predicted field for 2012 (in no particular order):
The Gators were the preseason No. 1 and finished the regular season ranked there. The entire starting rotation returns as does SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino, shortstop Nolan Fontana and INF/RHP Austin Maddox. They’ve got talent coming back, talent coming in and Omaha experience. Plus, have you seen that rotation? I don’t want to gush too much about Hudson Randal, but he was masterful Monday night. They’ve got my early vote for preseason No. 1 again.
I didn’t pick the Gamecocks to return to Omaha this year, and was proven very wrong. I was concerned they wouldn’t be able to make up for the loss of Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson. I was apprehensive about how tough it is to repeat. I shouldn’t have worried. This pick is largely contingent on Roth returning for his senior year, but South Carolina has young arms and will return Christian Walker, its best player.
Pitchers John Stilson and Ross Strippling are likely gone, but Michael Wacha isn’t. Wacha is one of the top draft prospects for 2012, and the Aggies should have plenty of offense to support him. They’ve proven they can win, and might be the best team in the state.
If Wacha isn’t the top college pitcher drafted next June, it will likely be Mark Appel. Along with a bevy of talented underclassmen hitters, Appel helped the Cardinal reach Super Regionals this year. They should be ready to make the jump next spring and get back to Omaha.
Georgia Tech’s June swoons are well documented, but I’m willing to pick the Yellow Jackets anyway. They were one of the youngest teams in the country this year and still managed to tie Virginia for the ACC regular season title. Righthander Buck Farmer should move easily into the Friday starter role and make up for the loss of Jed Bradley and Mark Pope.
There are some key losses for the Tar Heels, including righthander Patrick Johnson and shortstop Levi Michael. But I was very impressed by freshman lefthander Kent Emanuel this year, and he will likely be joined by a couple highly thought of incoming freshmen pitchers. North Carolina might be a less offensive team than it was this year, but it has the pitching staff to make up for that.
I was rewarded for picking North Carolina last year on the strength of a couple talented players and the belief it couldn’t miss Omaha two years in a row. So this year I turn to LSU, which hasn’t made the College World Series since it won the tournament in 2009 and missed the tournament altogether this season. The Tigers return second baseman JaCoby Jones and ace Kurt McCune, without losing too much. They have some talented players in their recruiting class and should be highly motivated after this year’s disappointments.
The Hurricanes used five starting pitchers in their 61 games this year. All five were underclassmen. I like any team that returns its whole starting rotation, especially one that is as good as Miami. Freshman Bryan Radziewski was especially exciting to me this year as the Hurricanes Friday starter. Miami loses some big bats (Rony Rodriguez, Nathan Melendres, Harold Martinez), but there’s enough returning talent to provide the runs Miami will need to return to Omaha.
Notably absent: Vanderbilt, Texas, California, Arizona State
Texas and Vanderbilt are kind of in the same boat. Both loss their whole starting rotations, but have talent waiting in the wings and important recruits coming in. Both could easily be in next year’s field, I’m just choosing to go in a different direction. Arizona State might be good enough to make it to Omaha, but I’m assuming the Sun Devils will be serving their postseason ban in 2012. Cal is very intriguing, and lefthander Justin Jones by himself was enough to give the Golden Bears consideration. But after surviving the ax, it’s unclear what kind of recruiting class coach David Esquer was able to put together. I just don’t feel comfortable picking a team that will likely have no impact newcomers.