OMAHA, Neb. - Saturday is the day to talk the talk. Just 32 hours before the start of the national championship series a group of representatives from South Carolina and Arizona met with the media about the challenge and opportunity ahead.
Here are just a few outtakes and nuggets of information from the South Carolina contingent - head coach Ray Tanner, outfielder Adam Matthews, and pitcher Michael Roth - as well as the Arizona group of head coach Andy Lopez, outfielder Robert Refsnyder, and shortstop Alex Mejia.
Tanner said that he’s still unsure who will start the opening game against Arizona, which is Sunday night at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. After the game on Friday, he indicated that Forrest Koumas, Nolan Belcher, and Evan Beal are the three players he’s considering. Koumas and Belcher seem to be the leading candidates based on information we’ve received at TheBigSpur.com.
“I’m not exactly sure what we’re going to do,” Tanner said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Tanner indicated that Roth would likely start Game 2 on Monday.
Lopez said that he will start RHP Konner Wade in Game 1. Wade, who has thrown five complete games this season, is 10-3 with a 4.17 earned run average in 127.1 innings pitched. He has 102 strikeouts and opponents are hitting .240 against him. After Wade, Lopez, in his 31st year as a college head coach, said he was unsure who would start.
Lopez indicated he would like to go with Kurt Heyer, who has a team-high 13 wins, in Game 2. Heyer has pitched 153 innings this season and has seven complete games. James Farris is third on the team with 16 starts and 99 innings pitched.
-- South Carolina has trailed in three of the five games in the College World Series but the team has been able to come back and win two of those games.
“We’ve been behind a few games but with that said, you can’t just give up,” Matthews said. “You have to continue to grind it out. As coach Tanner continues to say in here and continues to tell us on the field, you have to go out there and try to get on and try to get a bunt down and a big hit.”
The Gamecocks are fourth in the CWS in batting average hitting .229. Arizona is second in the field with a .277 batting average. The Wildcats only have six hits for extra bases - four doubles and two home runs - in their three games played in Omaha.
-- Roth is sporting Kinesio tape on his left forearm and has been wearing it since Friday morning. While pitching against Kent State on Thursday afternoon, Roth was hit with a line drive on the forearm. He, obviously, stayed in the game but the tape is supposed to help the healing process.
“It’s a sweet tattoo,” Roth said jokingly about the black tape that flares across his arm. “It’s supposed to lift the skin, or something, and help it heal faster.”
Roth is 3-0 in the NCAA Tournament this year with a 2.15 earned run average in 29.1 innings pitched.
-- South Carolina has become the darlings of the College World Series over the last few seasons but Arizona hopes that a few of the fans we’ll come over to their side for the championship series.
“I think we’ll be rooting for these guys,” Mejia said, motioning at the South Carolina contingent. “I feel like I I should be rooting for these guys, too. We both got some good support coming into this series.”
“Looking at a fan’s perspective, just the whole story of a three-peat, it’s just so amazing to be in the position they are,” Refsnyder said. “As a fan, I would definitely be rooting for that because that’s an unbelievable feat. But weird, quirky fans who want to see Arizona win, I’ll take that fan. It’s nice having fans here and it’s nice not getting yelled at in right field.”
-- Lopez, who referred to the championship series as the “Ray Tanner Invitational,” won the College World Series in 1992 with Pepperdine. In his 31 years as a college head coach, he’s taken every recruiting class except for one to Omaha and he’s gunning for his second national championship.
“Things have changed quite a bit for me but it’s still an unbelievable moment,” Lopez said. It’s not your identity. It should never be your identity. It’s a great moment, an unbelievable moment, and a great sense of accomplishment.”
Lopez coached at Florida from 1995-2001 before taking the Arizona job in 2002. He has a 1,088-664-7 record as a head coach.
-- South Carolina holds the edge in the experience factor as it is the first College World Series appearance for Arizona since the 2004 season. Tanner, however, downplays that notion insisting it’s just a three-game series.
“We’ve been here and we’ve had some good fortune here but I don’t think it’s an advantage for us,” Tanner said. “I hate to try to give coach-speak but we’re probably the underdog. We’ve been in the losers bracket and played a couple of extra games.”
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