June 26, 2012
"Nothing lasts forever."
Still in shock? Me too.
We all knew this day had to come. Nobody wins forever. UCLA had to quit winning basketball titles, Oklahoma had to lose a football game and even Arkansas missed a couple of track and field championships over the past 40 years.
South Carolina won back-to-back national championships, something only five other teams in college baseball history have done, and played in the College World Series finals for three straight years, which only three teams have done. That it lost, to a pitching-studded Arizona squad, is not a knock on what it has accomplished. Put it this way — if you're crying because the Gamecocks didn't win a third straight national championship, that's wasted tears.
It is surprising, though, just because of how it ended. Honestly, after the first loss to Arkansas, I was planning to come home and go on vacation. I figured it would be over on Thursday, when USC would have had to win two games in a day, and if not then, then on Friday.
But it wasn't over, and when the Gamecocks beat Arkansas to advance to the finals, I figured they were going to win the whole thing one more time. It was too perfect — come back through the loser's bracket, with a different-looking team but still the one that had worn that same uniform for the past two championships. The Gamecocks would win one more time and keep this incredible run going.
Then the Wildcats quickly and efficiently took USC's crown. They made the plays that the Gamecocks made the past two years, and their pitching was absurdly good. USC couldn't touch Konner Wade or James Farris with a snow shovel and the Wildcats collected two-out RBIs like a date with Jenn Brown depended on it.
The better team won. It was a hard truth to accept. But it was. USC had beaten the better teams, definitely in 2011 and arguably in 2010, for the two titles. Arizona was the better team and won the title.
But Monday night was no time to feel bad. It was a time to reflect.
Just think how far the program has come.
The Gamecocks are not just a good program anymore. They're one of the elite. Elite teams go to six College World Series in 11 years and finish in the top two in four of them. Elite teams win 158 games in a three-year stretch. Elite teams play for three straight national championships.
USC is the top program in the state, and really in the Carolinas. It's a strong argument that it's the top team in the Southeast, although other teams in the SEC might have something to say about that.
That won't go away overnight, or even in five years. USC is here to stay. The recruiting is top-notch, and after a three-year run where the Gamecocks have become the sport's poster boys, there's no reason to think that they won't be back in Omaha sooner or later.
It was surprising to see USC play so valiantly to get to the finals and then not finish, but as Ray Tanner is fond of saying, "That's baseball." Nobody wins forever, especially in this game, and the Gamecocks had a great run that ended just short of something so memorable that it's difficult to think about — to win the whole shootin' match three years straight, when the season is such a grind, would have been a miracle equal to the producers deciding to stop making "Final Destination" films.
I'll be wrapping up the season in a few days, and looking ahead to next year. As LB Dantzler pointed out, fall practice is just around the corner. It won't be that long before I'll be back at scrimmages.
It's been another fun two weeks.
Even without the trophy.
* I lost my raincoat within three days of being here. Didn't really need it this trip, but that was a good raincoat. If anybody managed to pick up a blue hooded coat from the "A" lounge of the Omaha airport, I'd appreciate a call.
* I had four trips to The Drover and may go back again today. I think I've had every whiskey cut on the menu by now.
* Our Omaha tradition of playing catch/taking infield practice was held to one this trip, due to Creighton's ground crew working on the field when we went out there and the lateness of USC's games. But we still had a good time, although two baseballs are beneath the softball field stands. Good luck to whoever finds them.
* Speaking of those times, the NCAA folks agreed that starting the games so late was an awful hindrance. Next year, the games should return to 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The only problem is, year after next, the games may be even worse. The World Cup will be shown on ESPN, and there's only an hour difference in TV broadcasts. Could be rather bad.
* So I lost the rubber button off the side of my phone while interviewing Michael Roth after the Kent State game. I didn't notice until I got back to the pressbox (four floors up) and tried to access the camera. I had to go back down the elevator and hunt on the floor until I found the little strip of black rubber (which blended in nicely with the floor) and masking-taped it in place.
* It was a tape kind of weekend. My right Nike separated from its sole playing infield. I borrowed some tape from the Creighton training room and made do.