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South Carolina, UCLA set to square off

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OMAHA, Neb. – It will be the first time for one in the last at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The College World Series has become an object of pride for those in the City of Omaha and the State of Nebraska. The same can be said for Rosenblatt Stadium. But after 61 seasons at the old ballpark, the CWS will shift to a sparkling new downtown stadium in 2011.

Plenty of fans, media, coaches and players alike will be sad to see the old park go. But at least everyone will be treated to a dandy of a championship series to close out a ballpark that oozes with tradition.

It's quite ironic that in a year we're closing down Rosenblatt, a first-time national champion will be crowned with South Carolina and UCLA coming together.

The Gamecocks have had an interesting road to the national title series. They put together a fantastic regular season and were close to earning a national seed. They won the Columbia Regional before hitting the road to beat Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Super Regional.

After arriving in Omaha, South Carolina lost its opening game to Oklahoma before winning four straight contests – including two over heated rival Clemson – to play for the national title for the fourth time in program history.

The Bruins also have had a drama-filled road to the championship series.

The Bruins won arguably the toughest NCAA regional with wins over Kent State, LSU and UC Irvine before beating Cal State Fullerton in the Los Angeles Super Regional. UCLA's road, once in Omaha, hasn't been too bad. It crushed Florida to begin the tourney before beating TCU, losing to TCU and crushing the Horned Frogs once more to advance to the national title round.

South Carolina and UCLA have never met on the baseball diamond.

That changes here in Omaha.

There's a first for some things. And there's a last for Rosenblatt.

CWS Championship Series: Who has the edge?
Pitching

It's safe to say things have been different for South Carolina this season.

Historically speaking, the Gamecocks have been strong at the plate and lacking something special on the mound. That isn't the case this season, and it certainly hasn't been the case since they arrived at the College World Series.

The Gamecocks enter the title series against UCLA with an impressive 3.53 earned run average, and a few pitchers in particular have risen to the occasion.

After losing the CWS opener to Oklahoma, the Gamecocks used a solid start from Sam Dyson and a good relief performance from Matt Price to beat Arizona State 11-4. South Carolina ace pitcher Blake Cooper put together a solid start in the second meeting against Oklahoma. And Price was a major reason the Gamecocks won that game, too.

With their pitching staff taxed, the Gamecocks rolled the dice in their fourth contest in Omaha by sending reliever Michael Roth to the mound against rival Clemson. Roth entered the contest with no starts. The left-hander, though, rose to the occasion and guided the Gamecocks to a win with a complete-game performance.

In the second meeting against the Tigers, Dyson put together a solid start, and Price once again took care of business out of the bullpen.

The Gamecocks have a pitching staff capable of cooling off UCLA's bats, but winning the series could be difficult with the Bruins having a substantial advantage in the matchups.

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner isn't sure who starts the series opener, but early indications are that either Tyler Webb (4.00, 36 IP) or Jay Brown (4.44, 50 2/3 IP) will get the nod. Cooper, of course, is an option, too.

Chances are Cooper will start Tuesday and Dyson would be ready to go for the series finale.

By comparison, UCLA couldn't be in better position.

The Bruins will send sophomore right-hander Gerrit Cole to the mound in the series opener. Cole, who has a 3.26 ERA in 116 innings, was fabulous in his only start here.

After Cole, the Bruins have lefty Rob Rasmussen and righty Trevor Bauer ready to go.

The bullpen also is in fantastic shape with Dan Klein and Erik Goeddel leading the way.

We've seen some situations in the past where the team with the more rested pitching staff didn't win the national title. That possibility exists with these two teams, but it's hard to imagine the Bruins not getting solid starts from Cole, Rasmussen and Bauer.

For that reason and more, UCLA leads the pitching category.

Hitting

For as talented and solid as the UCLA pitching staff is, the offense also deserves much credit for reaching the title series.

The Bruins appeared to be in a little trouble before the CWS when infielder Tyler Rahmatulla, who was hitting .328 with seven homers and 45 RBIs, went down with a wrist injury.

This offense, though, has rallied around Rahmatulla and been impressive. The Bruins, for instance, are hitting .308 and have scored 11, six and 10 runs, respectively, in their three victories.

Beau Amaral, Cody Regis and Niko Gallego have done some nice things in Omaha, while Blair Dunlap and Dean Espy also are worth watching.

This UCLA club certainly doesn't have a wealth of power. Heck, it enters the title series with just 65 homers. But this a very opportunistic offense that does a fabulous job of working counts.

By comparison, South Carolina isn't a team with a plethora of high batting averages. However, it can get the job done in the power department with 97 homers.

South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will be the best player on the field. Bradley Jr. has been fantastic at times at the CWS and is hitting .375 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs. Also keep an eye on Brady Thomas, Whit Merrifield and Christian Walker.

Thomas has had success in clutch situations and is hitting .326 with eight homers, Merrifield is hitting .325 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs and Walker is hitting .323 with nine homers and 51 RBIs.

UCLA has the higher batting average and has been more productive in Omaha.

Fielding

Many coaches subscribe to the theory that defense wins championships.

For the most part, both the Bruins and Gamecocks are solid in the field.

The Bruins enter the title series with a .970 fielding percentage and the Gamecocks enter the series with a fantastic .976 fielding percentage.

For that reason, South Carolina has the edge in the field.

The Gamecocks particularly have an impressive infield. In the middle, shortstop Bobby Haney has a .975 fielding percentage and second baseman Scott Wingo has a .968 fielding percentage. Third baseman Adrian Morales and first baseman Christian Walker can be iffy at times with fielding percentages of .942 and .976, respectively. Walker, though, made a fantastic grab Saturday against Clemson to preserve a victory.

South Carolina also has an impressive outfield that covers a lot of ground with Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley leading the way.

UCLA, too, has an impressive outfield with freshman Beau Amaral leading the way. Amaral has had a productive campaign at the plate, but his defensive play the past few weeks has been amazing.

The Bruins also have other impressive defenders such as catcher Steve Rodriguez, third baseman Dean Espy and first baseman Justin Uribe.

Don't look for either team to lose a game because of shoddy defense.

Intangibles

If there's something that both teams very much have in common, it's toughness.

The two teams have displayed their toughness in different ways, though.

South Carolina dropped its first game at the CWS to Oklahoma before rattling off four straight victories to get to this point.

There have been times this season when the Gamecocks didn't exactly impress at the plate. But instead of losing their cool, they rose to the occasion in opportune situations and got the job done because of their toughness and resiliency.

UCLA has overcome some odds, too.

The Bruins entered the season with high expectations. But as usual, there were plenty of skeptics about them because of their rash of underachieving campaigns.

The Bruins, though, kept that out of their mind entering the season and haven't thought about looking back on the way to the national title series.

UCLA has put its toughness on display more than anytime this season the past two weeks. In the Los Angeles Super Regional, the Bruins were down to their last out in the second game against Cal State Fullerton. However, they came back to win that game and the series to get to Omaha for the first time since 1997.

In the CWS, the Bruins have played a hard-nosed and exceptional brand of baseball.

Both teams have a never-say-die attitude. Therefore, the two are even.

UCLA will win if ...

It plays like it has throughout the CWS. There's absolutely no question the Bruins are the favorite entering the series against the Gamecocks. The Bruins are setup perfectly from a pitching standpoint and have a stellar weekend rotation with Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Rob Rasmussen leading the way. It also is important for the UCLA offense to continue its hot ways. UCLA wins this series if consistency prevails.

South Carolina will win if ...

It continues to hit in clutch situations and gets good starts from its pitchers. Just a few weeks ago at the SEC tournament, Tanner was concerned about his team's prowess at the plate. The Gamecocks, though, have done a nice job at the plate in the postseason and certainly have gotten the clutch hits. Starting pitching, though, is the most important aspect of the series. UCLA has a huge advantage in terms of potential pitching matchups. However, it must be remembered that Michael Roth came out of nowhere to throw a complete game against Clemson earlier in the CWS. The Gamecocks will need more clutch starts to win the national title.