Gamecocks face Wildcats in College World Series
South Carolina is going for third straight championship
Omaha -- South Carolina left-hander Michael Roth isn't really a baseball fan. He takes the mound, pitches, goes home and watches anything but baseball on TV.
Arizona right fielder Rob Refsnyder is the opposite. He watches the game, and spent June the past two years viewing Roth and the rest of the Gamecocks win consecutive NCAA championships while he played summer ball.
This year, Refsnyder and the Wildcats made it to Omaha. Now they're trying to stop South Carolina from making history.
Arizona (46-17) and No. 8 South Carolina (49-18) play the first game of the best-of-three College World Series finals at 7:10 p.m. CT on Sunday. The Gamecocks are trying to win their third straight championship, a feat only accomplished by USC, who won five in a row from 1970-74.
"They just play baseball great. ... They've been executing it the past couple years," said Refsnyder, the Yankees' fifth-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. "This is [shortstop Alex Mejia and my] first trip to Omaha. I can't imagine being here three times in a row and potentially being a national champion."
The road to Omaha didn't begin smoothly this season for South Carolina, which features four freshmen starters. The Gamecocks started 1-5 in SEC play in May. The team matured, won the SEC Eastern Division, and now is back in familiar territory behind the senior leadership of two Draft picks -- Roth (ninth round, Angles) and left fielder Adam Matthews (29th round, Reds).
"We have a bunch of young guys and as an older guy it's just nice to see how they've grown," Roth said. "They've kind of molded into the competitive spirit, the battling and grinding out at-bats. ... We wouldn't be here without them today."
Roth and senior right-handed reliever Matt Price (seventh round, Orioles) headline a dominant pitching staff that has a 1.71 ERA in the NCAA Tournament, including an 0.86 mark by the bullpen. The bullpen has allowed only 11 hits and struck out 39 in 31 1/3 innings, a big reason South Carolina has allowed four runs or fewer in every game of the tournament.
Arizona's starting pitching also has been impressive, with the Wildcats getting at least seven innings from their starters in every tournament game. Right-handers Kurt Heyer (sixth round, Cardinals) and Konner Wade (Sunday's starter) have led the way, but Arizona's offense has been the best in Omaha.
The Wildcats have averaged six runs per game in three College World Series contests and four of their top five hitters -- center fielder Joey Rickard (ninth round, Rays), Seth Mejias-Brean (eighth round, Reds), Mejia (fourth round, Cardinals) and Refsnyder -- were drafted. The Wildcats are hitting .330 on the season and .277 in Omaha .
"It's going to be one of those deals that I don't know that we can slow them down," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "They're really, really good. We're going to have to be as good as we've been. We've pitched really well to get back into this position. And we're going to have to have a couple of guys that haven't maybe been on the mound yet pitch really well."
Arizona is riding a nine-game winning streak as the Wildcats search for their fourth College World Series title and first since 1986. Head coach Andy Lopez, who won the 1992 championship with Pepperdine, also is looking to join Augie Garrido (Call State Fullerton and Texas) as the only head coaches to win titles at two schools.
Whether Arizona and Lopez win the coach's second title or South Carolina wins its third straight championship, it will be a notable finale series this year in Omaha.
"They're a great powerhouse in the SEC and we want to make a name for ourselves at Arizona," Mejia said. "This series, it's going to be a big one just because there's so much hype going into it. They have a chance to three-peat and we're trying to get another one for our coach over here.
"These two teams play baseball to the best of their ability with anybody, so it's going to be a great series."
College World Series finals schedule
Sunday No. 8 South Carolina vs. Arizona, 7 p.m.
Monday Arizona vs. No. 8 South Carolina, 7 p.m.
Tuesday (if necessary) No. 8 South Carolina vs. Arizona, 7 p.m.