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Gamecocks still have lots to crow about

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The South Carolina Gamecocks brought home a handsome trophy from Omaha on Tuesday afternoon to a large throng of garnet and black-clad USC fans at Carolina Stadium.
It wasn’t the biggest prize the Gamecocks had hoped for, but it was a coveted trophy.
Plenty of teams would have loved to be bearing the runner-up trophy from the College World Series, and the Gamecocks were.
The two-time defending national champions had hoped to bring home another national crown for the third straight June.
It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort.
Arizona, a team seeking to regain some past diamond shine, denied the gritty Gamecocks’ bid with its fourth national crown.
The talented Wildcats, a club blessed with solid pitching and strong hitting, swept to the national championship, winning two straight for their first national title since the 1986 CWS.
Still, the Gamecocks, living up to their nickname as a bird which battles to the final breath, were impressive in defending their title.
Few, going back to early spring, felt the Gamecocks would be playing in Omaha as late spring turned to summer.
This was a team which lost  six starters and started 1-5 in rugged Southeastern Conference play. What they had was USC coach Ray Tanner, who has become a master at molding his team. They also had a core of key veterans led by All-American pitchers Michael Roth and Matt Price, not to mention battled-tested veterans Evan Marzilli, Adam Matthews and Christian Walker.
They also had some talented newcomers, who Tanner said wisely listened to the older players and meshed into a team which earned the right to defend its two-time crown.
Monday night with the season ending loss, USC’s disappointment was as prevalent as the colorful beach balls which bounded around TD Ameritrade Park during the CWS.
A run of thrills highlighted the Gamecocks’ run to the title series. They opened with a stunning win over top national seed Florida. Then the Gamecocks dropped a tough loss to SEC rival Arkansas, but in USC CWS fashion, they rebounded to beat sentimental favorite Kent State and Arkansas in one day, a rare CWS feat, and then downed Arkansas again to earn the shot at a third straight title.
Arizona stood in its way, and the Wildcats were just too strong, winning 5-1 and 4-1. The Cats, snapped a 1-all tie with three runs in the top of the ninth.
The Gamecocks battled to the finish, loading the bases with one out, but failed to complete the rally to yield the crown.
“We were extremely fortunate to get away with this victory,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said.
“It’s not the best team that wins, it’s the hottest team, and these guys got hot at the right time,” Lopez said.
The Wildcats won 18 of their last 20 games, including their final 11.
It was the same streaking formula which fueled USC to its two national crowns and a postseason streak of 22 straight wins.
Tanner couldn’t fault his team.
“We battled as hard as we could, but they did a little bit better than we did,” Tanner said. “Though we’re disappointed tonight, I’m not disappointed in my players. We battled awful hard. We made a run, got to the postseason and got back out here. We got in the losers’ bracket and got back to the finals.”
When they returned home, they had a trophy, not the one they dearly wanted, but one many would love to own at season’s end.
It wasn’t a national championship season, but it was a sterling champion effort to only boost Carolina baseball tradition.