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Neff had solid hope of USC diamond success

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Sports Talk

By Robert Howey

 

Steven Neff, the Lancaster connection to the back-to-back national

champion University of South Carolina baseball team, had an idea the Gamecocks could repeat the unique feat.

“Each season is different, but I knew we had a chance,” said Neff, the former Lancaster Bruins and Post 31 American Legion baseball star. “We had pretty much the same team back this season and it always helps when you have veteran players. It was about timely hitting and pitching,”

The Gamecocks, with clutch play in all phases of the game, returned to the top of college baseball, winning their second straight national crown.

USC, 55-14, capped their stellar run, extending a record 16-game postseason win streak with a sweep of SEC foe Florida, 2-1 and 5-2 earlier this week in Omaha, Neb.

“We just took it one game at a time,” Neff said. “That’s why we’re the best in the nation.”

Neff noted it wasn’t a piece of cake.

“It’s not easy,” he said.

The Gamecocks had their share of adversity, battling – their postseason war cry – through injuries.

2010 College World Series Most Outstanding Player Jackie Bradley, Jr., was injured in late April, but USC neatly pieced it together to return to Omaha, college baseball’s grandest stage.

Along the way, role players like Neff, a capable pitcher by trade, contributed at the plate and in the outfield to keep the drive alive.

“I’ve always been a hitter,” said Neff, solid with the stick going back to his Lancaster Dixie Baseball days at Wylie Park and on to LHS’s Doomsday Corner and P-31’s Eggleton Field.

He hit .254 with five homers and seven doubles to go with a 3-1 mound mark and 2.45 earned run average.

Bradley returned when the team reached the CWS, but then star first baseman Christian Walker suffered a broken bone in his wrist just when USC opened the title series with the Gators. Walker’s injury might have been about broken dreams, but like the gritty Gamecocks, he found a way to play.

Neff said the Gamecocks’ extraordinary achievements are reached with a simple approach.

“We have fun, just have fun,” he said. “That’s part of baseball.”

Such notable dugout antics as the rally hats, upside down sunglasses and paddling up stream were just part of the USC approach.

“It’s just some of our shenanigans,” Neff said. “We do different things. We’re not uptight. We’re loose and that helps us make plays. We play confident.”

It’s a different approach, but quite effective.

“Another dog pile,” said Neff of the Gamecocks immediate’ post-game reaction celebration. “It’s amazing. Dreams do come true.”

How about another title run?

“We’re losing a lot of guys, but it will be a new season,” he said. “I’m sure we will be battling. This success can only help recruiting.”

For now, he’s savoring the success.

“It was a great night,” he said.

Yes, it has been for two straight jubilant Junes.