Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Top 5 College World Series Games Since 2000

The College World Series is one of the premiere events in collegiate athletics. Since its inception in 1947, the CWS has given the players, coaches, and fans of many schools unforgettable memories as the eight best teams in America duke it out for a national title.

With the CWS looming again this June, I figured it was time to dust off the record books and relive some of the greatest games in the tournament's history since the turn of the millennium. So without further adieu, here are the Top 5 College World Series Games Since 2000!

Honorable Mention: Oregon State vs Arkansas (2018 Finals Game 2) Oregon State vs North Carolina (2006 Finals Game 2), Coastal Carolina vs Arizona (2016 Finals Game 3), Vanderbilt vs Virginia (2014 Finals Game 3)

No. 5 Arizona vs South Carolina (2012 Finals Game 2)
Photo Credits: Zimbio

The 2012 College World Series Finals pitted the two-time defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks against an Arizona Wildcats team making their first appearance in Omaha since 2004. After surviving three elimination games prior to the CWS Finals, South Carolina was looking to join the 1972 USC Trojans as just the second team ever to three-peat.

Having beaten two national seeds (No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Florida State twice) on route to the Finals, Arizona arguably was not the underdog against the No. 8 national seed... and boy did they show it.

The Wildcats took the first game 5-1. In Game 2, Arizona and South Carolina were deadlocked at 1-1 going into the top of the ninth inning. Junior leadoff man Rob Refsnyder singled to kick off the inning and was then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from junior Seth Mejias-Brean.

After an intentional walk to redshirt senior Bobby Brown, sophomore Brandon Dixon smoked a double down the left field line to give the Wildcats a 3-1 lead. After a pitching change, Dixon would also come in to score on a two-out single from freshman Trent Gilbert.

The Gamecocks would rally in the bottom of the ninth and actually load the bases, but freshman Mathew Troupe would induce a fly out to clinch the national championship. It would be Arizona's fourth title in school history and their first since 1986.

No. 4 Rice vs Stanford (2003 Finals Game 1)
(No Image Available)

Th 2003 College World Series Finals matched up two national seeds against each other as the No. 5 Rice Owls took on the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal. This was Stanford's fifth consecutive CWS appearance (they were runner-ups twice in 2000 and 2001) while Rice was playing in Omaha for the second straight year and just the fourth overall time in program history.

The Owls cruised through pool play to enter the Finals undefeated at Omaha. The Cardinal, meanwhile, had to endure three elimination games just to make it to their third Finals in four years.

Game 1 between these two schools would be the most memorable of the entire series. Stanford took an early 3-0 lead in the first inning before Rice chipped away to knot up the score after four. From here, it would be a battle to scratch a run across as the game remained tied after nine innings.

After retiring the side in the top of the 10th, Rice entered the bottom half of the frame with their top of the lineup coming up to bat. Junior Chris Kolkhorst drew a five-pitch walk and was move to second via a sacrifice bunt from senior Dane Bubela.

Stanford skipper Mark Marquess then went with a pitching change and brought in Kodiak Quick to get the final two outs. After a strikeout of junior Vincent Sinisi, sophomore cleanup man Austin Davis strode to the plate.

Davis would bounce an 0-1 pitch right to Quick, who proceeded to errantly throw the ball to first base! Kolkhorst came hustling around third to score the game-winning run and just like that Rice was up 1-0 in the series!

It was an absolute heartbreaking way for Stanford to lose and an unbelievably miraculous way for Rice to win. Despite winning Game 2 by a score of 8-3, the Cardinal would lose their third CWS in four years as Rice whooped them by a score of 14-2 in the winner-take-all game. It would be Rice's first and only national championship in program history.

No. 3 LSU vs Texas (2009 Finals Game 1)
Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The 2009 College World Series Finals featured two of college baseball's most marquee programs. Combining for 11 national championships, the LSU Tigers and Texas Longhorns coasted through their CWS opponents as they both entered the Finals with a 3-0 mark in Omaha. LSU was the No. 3 national seed while Texas sat atop as the No. 1 national seed. This was primed to be one of the best CWS Finals the sport had seen in a while.

As advertised, Game 1 delivered all the drama and theatrics that one would expect in an LSU/Texas National Championship. LSU took the lead early before Texas put up three in the fourth inning. The Tigers would tie the game in the sixth, only to go down 5-3 to the Longhorns in the bottom of the frame.

After trading runs in the seventh, the scoring would cease until the game's final frame. Down 6-4 in the top of the ninth, LSU cooked up some of that comeback magic that has blessed their baseball program for years.

With one out, Junior Sean Ochinko singled to bring the tying run to the plate. He would be replaced with sophomore pinch runner Leon Landry and Texas would make a pitching change as well. Senior Derek Helenihi would draw a walk, now moving the tying run to first base.

Freshman Tyler Hanover came in to pinch hit as Texas again made another pitching substitution. This tactic from legendary Longhorn skipper Augie Garrido (R.I.P.) would pay off as Hanover struck out swinging for the second out of the frame.

Down to their last out in a game they could not afford to drop against the No. 1 team in the country, LSU's last hope was riding on sophomore leadoff man D.J. LeMahieu. The moment would prove not too big for him, as LeMahieu cranked a double into the left field corner. Both runners would score standing up and the game was tied!

LeMahieu would get stranded at second base to conclude the inning, but the damage had been done. The momentum was in LSU's favor, and a scoreless bottom of the ninth served as an indication that this was their game for the taking. The 10th inning featured LSU loading the bases with only one out, but Texas would work out of the jam. The Longhorns would not threaten in the bottom half as they went down in order.

In the top of the 11th, D.J. LeMahieu settled in to the batter's box and worked a leadoff walk. After a pop up and a fly out, LeMahieu would swipe second base and then advanced to third on a throwing error from Longhorn sophomore catcher Cameron Rupp.

With still two outs, sophomore Micah Gibbs drew a walk to set the stage for freshman Mikie Mahtook. He would etch his name in Tiger baseball lore as he roped a single up the middle to give LSU a 7-6 lead!

In the bottom half of the 11th, freshman closer Matty Ott worked a perfect inning to seal an improbable comeback victory. This win would prove huge for LSU as Texas recovered from this loss and defeated the Tigers in Game 2 by a score of 5-1.

In the winner-take-all game, LSU would again emerge victorious in a less tense affair as they smoked Texas by a margin of 11-4 to claim the sixth national championship in school history. It would be their first title since 2000.

No. 2 South Carolina vs Florida (2011 Finals Game 1)
Photo Credits: Columbia Metropolitan Magazine

In the midst of their incredible College World Series runs, the South Carolina Gamecocks found themselves facing a familiar foe as they met up with the Florida Gators in the 2011 College World Series Finals.

In their regular season meeting in Gainesville in late-March, the Gamecocks had taken two out of three from the Gators. Now as the the defending champions and No. 4 national seed, South Carolina was nothing short of confident about their rematch against the No. 2 national seed with a title on the line.

Both schools had run the table on their way to the CWS Finals. Had Florida not dropped Game 2 of super regionals to Mississippi State, both they and South Carolina would have been a perfect 8-0 entering the Finals. They both were co-champions of the SEC regular season with an identical 22-8 conference record and Florida took it one step further by also winning the SEC Tournament.

In addition to besting Florida twice in the regular season, South Carolina had also taken down No. 1 overall seeded Virginia twice to advance to back-to-back CWS Finals. This Gamecock squad was loaded with talent, and the question was if the firepower of Florida would be enough to knock them from the top of the mountain.

Game 1 between these two SEC East rivals was an instant classic. In a low-scoring pitcher's duel that saw South Carolina tie it in the eighth inning at 1-1, the Gators put the Gamecocks' repeat dreams on hold when they loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

What happened next I still cannot believe to this day and shows the true mark of a champion on South Carolina's part. With junior Tyler Thompson up to bat and the count 0-1, Thompson hit a hard grounder past the pitcher's mound. There to glove it with a sensational dive to his right was senior second baseman Scott Wingo.

Wingo snagged the ball, got up and fired a shot to home plate to prevent the winning run from scoring. It was an incredible play, but by no means was South Carolina out of trouble just yet. Next up was junior Daniel Pigott, who hit an 0-1 offering right to Wingo. Again, the senior gloved the ground ball, threw the ball to home, and then sophomore catcher Evan Marzilli fired a throw to first base to complete the clutch 4-2-3 double play.

The Gator threat had been quashed and the Orange and Blue were stunned. After stranding South Carolina runners on first and second in the top of the 10th inning, Florida again had an opportunity to win their first College World Series Finals game in school history.

In the bottom of the 10th with two outs and runners on first and second, sophomore Mike Zunino jumped on the first pitch of his at-bat and sent a rocket out to left field. Sophomore Cody Dent got the green light to come home as junior left fielder Jake Williams came up firing towards the plate. Williams's throw went right to Evan Marzilli, who received it perfectly and tagged out Dent at the plate to keep the game tied.

This would be the ultimate backbreaker for Florida and give South Carolina an extra dosage of the momentum that had already infected the team after the nerve-wracking ninth inning. In the top of the 11th, sophomore Christian Walker singled to give the Gamecocks a runner with one out.

Walker's teammates would need to do no more as he stole second and then advanced to third on the errant throw. However, the throw to third base went into the stands and automatically Walker was awarded home plate. After surviving two cardiac innings, South Carolina had taken the lead!

In the bottom of the 11th, the Gators would get their leadoff man on after a single from Brian Johnson. A bunt would move him into scoring position, but a strikeout and ground out would put an end to any dreams Florida had of a comeback. They had pushed the defending champions to the brink, but the Gamecocks found a way to pull out the 'W'.

After such a thrilling Game 1 victory, South Carolina had no problem dispatching Florida by a score of 5-2 in Game 2 to win back-to-back national championships.

No. 1 South Carolina vs UCLA (2010 Finals Game 2)
Photo Credits: SI

Coming in at No. 1 is the game that kicked off the South Carolina dynasty. The 2010 College World Series Finals welcomed two newcomers as both South Carolina and UCLA had never made it to the Finals before. UCLA was the No. 4 national seed while South Carolina, though a great ball club, was unseeded coming into the tournament.

Both teams had to grind to reach the Finals. UCLA had the better end of the bargain as they only had to stave off TCU for one more game after dropping the first semifinal game to the Horned Frogs. South Carolina, on the other hand, lost in the first round of the CWS and had to win four consecutive elimination games (their first being over No. 1 overall seed Arizona State) just to reach the Finals!

The Gamecocks had no trouble in Game 1 as they easily defeated the Bruins by a score of 7-1. In Game 2, it would be much different. UCLA scored the game's first run in the fifth inning and South Carolina was able to muster one across in the eighth inning to even things at 1-1.

UCLA was able to load the bases in the top of the ninth inning with two outs, but freshman Matt Price recorded a strikeout to escape the jam. The whole 10th inning and top of the 11th would feature no major scoring opportunities, setting up a finale for the ages.

Junior Scott Wingo led off the inning by working a walk on a full count. He then advanced to second base on a past ball. Freshman Evan Marzilli then executed flawlessly as he got down the biggest bunt of his collegiate career to move Wingo to third base. Up to bat now out of the two-hole was junior Whit Merrifield.

With the count at 2-0, Merrifield delivered one of the biggest hits in College World Series history as he lined a single into right field to win the first-ever national championship in South Carolina history! Sheer pandemonium ensued and at that moment Whit Merrifield became immortalized as a college baseball legend. In Rosenblatt Stadium's final year of hosting the College World Series, Merrifield gave that stadium a send-off for the ages.

Final Takeaway
I hope you enjoyed this list! College baseball truly is an incredible sport to watch due to its parity and the passion that many of these guys play with. I can only hope that future College World Series will feature contests as memorable as the ones I have mentioned here! Stay tuned as I have many more Top 5, appreciation, and game recap articles that I plan to write this summer!



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