The ride continuesEvan Marzilli and South Carolina won four straight elimination games to reach the final series
OMAHA, Neb. – Sometimes history repeats itself. Sometimes you hope it doesn't.
Back in 2002, Clemson won the first two games of the College World Series to sit in the driver's seat to the national title game. The only thing standing in its way was a Ray Tanner-coached South Carolina club.
The stakes were high and everyone in the Palmetto State were glued to their television sets. All the Tigers had to do was beat the Gamecocks just once to play Texas for the national title.
That contest against the Longhorns never happened.
The Tigers dropped two-straight games to the Gamecocks. And it was South Carolina that went on to play Texas – the national champion that year – for the national title.
Many South Carolina fans will always remember that moment. Plenty of Clemson fans would like to act like it never happened.
But on Saturday, history could have been averted or repeated as the Tigers and Gamecocks squared off in a similar situation. It again was win or go home.
And again, it was South Carolina that came out on top, 4-3, to culminate a crazy ride through bracket two.
Clemson played excellent baseball the first few days of the CWS. It took care of Arizona State in surprising fashion in its opener. It also beat Oklahoma to get in the driver's seat to the national title series.
The Tigers had a few days off and appeared to be in fantastic shape to advance.
South Carolina, meanwhile, was living life on the edge to say the least. The Gamecocks dropped their opening game to Oklahoma and were scuffling before they could even get comfortable here in Omaha.
But something changed. The Gamecocks beat Arizona State 11-4 to stay alive. Then a 3-2 win over Oklahoma kept their hopes of playing for a national title within striking distance.
But standing in the way was Clemson, a team that beat them two of three earlier this season and demolished them 19-6 in the series finale. Of course, that series was just the third weekend of the regular season. But Clemson entered its two contests against the Gamecocks with great confidence as a result.
The confidence didn't last long in the first meeting [in Omaha] between the two teams. Situational left-hander turned starter Michael Roth turned his arm into a blowtorch and silenced Clemson's bats in a complete game performance and win on Friday.
Suddenly all the pressure was back on Clemson entering a contest that would decide who would play UCLA in the title series.
The situation that everyone at Clemson was afraid of came true. The Gamecocks, led by pitchers Sam Dyson and Matt Price, beat the Tigers in the biggest of situations.
"I feel like this is the type of team that we are, we're very resilient and we don't like to lose a lot," South Carolina outfielder Whit Merrifield said. "We've done things the hard way the entire season. Why not keep it up?"
The win sends some Gamecock fans to the streets partying like it's 2002. It sends Clemson fans home once again confused and wondering what could've been.
Though beating Clemson to advance to the title series is a significant accomplishment for the Gamecocks, the most impressive aspect of their wins over the Tigers and their overall road here at the CWS is the job their pitching staff has done.
The Gamecocks, at least in recent history, always were known as a team that had a potent offensive lineup but not nearly enough pitching to get the job done on the grandest stage.
In this CWS and for much of the season, though, the Gamecocks have turned the tide. This is no longer a team with glaring question marks on the mound. This is a national title caliber pitching staff. And as a result, is a national title caliber team.
After losing its CWS opener to Oklahoma, South Carolina pitchers Sam Dyson and Matt Price teamed up in the effort against ASU, Blake Cooper and Price teamed up in a rematch against Oklahoma. It was Roth against Clemson and once again Dyson and Price in the second meeting against Clemson.
"Just a couple of days ago we were down to our last out and planning a trip back home," Tanner said. "Now we're playing for the national title. That's incredible."
The win over Clemson sets up a CWS championship series against UCLA. The Bruins, with Gerrit Cole fresh and waiting in the wings, and other stellar pitchers such as Rob Rasmussen and Trevor Bauer waiting on the Gamecocks, certainly have the edge.
But this South Carolina club has faced plenty of tough situations, and has prevailed in almost every one of those situations. The Gamecocks hope their never-say-die attitude will again shine against the red hot Bruins.
As well as the Gamecocks played in two games against their heated rivals, they should've learned a valuable lesson from them, too.
Clemson was unable to reverse history against the Gamecocks. And this South Carolina team is well aware that the '02 team went on to lose the national title to Texas.
But the Gamecocks hope to change fortune and history this go round.
Something their rivals were unable to do.