2012 College World Series Preview: South Carolina vs. Florida

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South Carolina is returning to Omaha for the third year in a row.  They've traveled half way across the continent and they get to play someone two states away.  USC plays Florida in each team's first game in the college world series.

We've previously previewed the Gators here and here.

Florida and South Carolina are two perennial powers in the SEC.  Over the last three seasons they have constantly found themselves competing with each other for championships.  In 2010 Florida came to Carolina Stadium for the last series of the season.  The winner of the series would be the SEC East champ and the SEC regular season champ.  Florida won the series 2 games to 1, and became SEC champs.

In 2011 the SEC race came down to a three way tie between South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt.  All 3 finished with 22-8 conference records, but South Carolina beat Florida 2 games to 1 in Gainesville, so they were the #1 seed in the SEC tournament and SEC Champs.  Later that season, South Carolina and Florida met in Omaha for a best of three series to determine the national champion.  South Carolina won 2 games and the national title.

In 2012 Florida came to Columbia for the second series of the year.  The Gamecocks won the first game, but they lost the next two.  Nonetheless on the final weekend of the season, South Carolina and Florida were both in the running for a SEC Championship and a SEC East crown.  South Carolina lost to LSU early on the last day to lose the title to the Bayou Bengals.  Florida lost their game to Auburn later that same day (on a play at the plate) to give the SEC East title to South Carolina.  Florida got some measure of revenge by knocking USC out of the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

This will be the 10th meeting between the two teams in two seasons.

Year     Location          Winner           Score

2011    Gainesville          USC              4-3

2011    Gainesville          UF                2-1

2011    Gainesville          USC             9-2

2011    Omaha                USC             2-1

2011    Omaha                USC             2-1

2012   Columbia             USC             9-3

2012   Columbia             UF                8-2

2012   Columbia             UF                5-4

2012   Hoover                UF                7-2

The away team has been 6-3 over those 9 games.  South Carolina will be away Saturday night.

What can you expect:  You can expect an extremely competive game.  Many people think Florida's team is as talented as any in the country.  They've certainly seemed that way most of the season, but they haven't been invincible.

Pitching:  Michael Roth will start for the Gamecocks.  Against Florida during this latest stretch, this is how he's done:

Date         dec.     IP       H        R       ER       BB   K

3/25/11      W      8.1     10        2         2         2    6

6/28/11      W      7.2      5         2         2         2    6

3/22/12     ND     6.2      4         2         1         3    5

Expect Ray Tanner to use any and all of the bullpen to try to win this first game.  If USC has a lead in the 7th or later, expect Matt Price to enter the game.

Florida will probably throw Brian Johnson.  Johnson has been the #2 starter for at least two years and has been relatively successful against the Gamecocks.  Of the 4 Gator starting pitchers (Randall, Whitson and Crawford being the others), Johnson is the only one who didn't pitch last weekend.  This is not a slight.  Florida coach O'Sullivan thinks Johnson gives his team the best chance to win.

The take away:  Like all of the last 27 NCAA tournament games USC has played, this game will come down to who gets the big hits and who can make the big pitches.  If Roth is on, and USC gets a few timely hits, you have to like the Gamecocks chances.

Get more great South Carolina analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.