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“We hail thee Carolina and sing thy high praise...”
Those opening words to the University of South Carolina alma mater carry a little deeper meaning today.
The USC Gamecocks, a never-say-die unit personified, are the toast of the college baseball world. The Gamecocks scratched and fought for their elite status, college baseball’s “Cock of the Walk,” if you will, with the 2010 NCAA national championship they won Tuesday.
Coach Ray Tanner’s gritty group etched its name in Gamecock lore with a thrilling 2-1 extra-inning win over UCLA on Whit Merrifield’s game-winning single to score Scott Wingo.
Gamecocks are to be heard at the crack of dawn, but the crowing among the jubilant USC faithful came just before midnight Tuesday with the ping of Whitfield’s winning hit and continued well into the night.
There’s plenty to be Gamecock proud about with the school’s first national championship in baseball.
The Gamecocks’ national crown is one for the ages, the long-sought prize for those all-too-familiar, tough, bitter pill-to-swallow USC losses in any sport over seasons past.
If there’s a so-called “chicken curse,” the bane for Gamecocks’ sports success, it has been plucked for good.
At one point during the College World Series, USC, fighting off elimination after losing to Oklahoma in its CWS opener, was down to its last strike, but kept battling, no matter the odds or the score, to eventually strike diamond gold.
The Gamecocks distinguished themselves as a prime example of never giving up. So many times they could have, but just refused to throw in the towel. We say the 2010 Gamecocks’ “boys of summer” are poster boys for the resilient.
After falling to Oklahoma, 4-3, in the CWS opener, USC had to face No. 1 national seed Arizona State. The Gamecocks responded with a solid 11-4 win.
Then, it was Oklahoma again and the Gamecocks made sure there was no Sooners’ repeat with an exciting 3-2 victory in 12 innings.
Up next, arch rival Clemson, which had defeated the Gamecocks, 2-1, in their best-of-three early-season series, but it was a different story as the USC storybook baseball season continued with a pair of stirring wins over the talented Tigers, 5-1, 4-3.
For the second time in the past eight years, the Gamecocks, their season on the line, knocked off the Tigers in two straight do-or-die CWS games to advance. Plenty to celebrate, but no time to rest as UCLA was the Gamecocks’ foe for the national title series.
UCLA, like USC, had no national title in baseball, but the Bruins sport more than100 in all sports and are No. 1 in NCAA team championships. South Carolina sported only one other national title.
Then, there was a NCAA emotional factor. Only weeks before, legendary Bruins’ basketball coach John Wooden died and there was that spark of spirit to “win one for Wooden.”
The Gamecocks had their own inspirational motivation from young USC fan Bayler Teal. The Gamecocks dedicated their College World Series to Teal, who died last Thursday due to cancer. Certainly the Wooden name, much like UCLA, was bigger, but again never underestimate the driving force of a team on the rise with a mission and the boyish spunk and will of a David facing a Goliath.
The rest is history, closing out a notable chapter in college baseball with back-to-back Gamecock wins – 7-1, 2-1 – at storied Rosenblatt Stadium, college baseball’s mecca in its final season.
Rosenblatt’s diamond finale was a Carolina classic.
UCLA coach John Savage tipped his cap to the USC Gamecocks.
“They’ve (South Carolina) earned the right to be called national champs. Coach Tanner and his staff certainly earned it. They’re the last one standing. The national championship is supposed to be played like that.”
Tanner said the Gamecocks are extraordinary.
“We’ve been a really, really special baseball team that approached it the right way and found a way to win and never gave in, never gave up,” Tanner said.
Yes, hail Carolina.
For 2010 USC Gamecocks’ baseball, no team is finer.