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June 24, 2011

USC One Win From Title Series

NO. 2 VIRGINIA (56-11) vs. NO. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA (52-14)
What: Game 12, College World Series
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
Tickets: Some general admission available at the box office
Probable starting pitchers: Virginia -- LHP Danny Hultzen (12-3, 1.41 ERA). South Carolina -- LHP Michael Roth (13-3, 0.97)
Notes: South Carolina is enjoying its first 2-0 start at the College World Series since 1977. ... The Gamecocks can make a second straight appearance in the national championship series with a win, and their fifth title-game or title-series appearance in 10 tries. ... Virginia must win today and on Saturday to advance to the title series for the first time in its history. ... Hultzen was the No. 2 overall pick in the last Major League Baseball draft. ... USC beat the Cavaliers 7-1 on Thursday and Virginia beat California to set up the rematch. ... The Cavs are the top national seed in the NCAA tournament and USC is the fourth. ... USC is the home team today.
Next up: If South Carolina wins, it advances to the national championship series and will play the Florida/Vanderbilt winner at 7 p.m. on Monday in the first of a best-of-three series. If South Carolina loses, Virginia and South Carolina will play at 7 p.m. on Saturday with the winner advancing to the championship series.

OMAHA, Neb. -- Despite having the advantage and options, Ray Tanner is playing for today.

Fourth-ranked South Carolina will send ace Michael Roth (13-3, 0.97 ERA) to the mound tonight as it attempts to clinch its second straight appearance in the national championship series. The Gamecocks (52-14) will play Virginia (56-11) at 7 p.m. with a win sending USC into the best-of-three national championship series, and a loss setting up a do-or-die rematch between the two teams at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Since the Gamecocks had another game in case they didn't win the first, there were thoughts that freshman Forrest Koumas, the third weekend starter since midway through the season, would get the ball no matter who USC played in its third game of the College World Series. Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers confirmed that Koumas and Roth were the top two choices after Thursday's practice, but each seemed to be leaning toward Roth.

After the Cavaliers dispatched California 8-1 on Thursday, it became reality. There will be no thinking of saving Roth for a second game to get to the title series, or starting in Game 1 of the series.

It's about winning now.

"You've got to do the best you can today and worry about everything else later," Tanner said. "I seem to be best in the moment. I can't look too far ahead. We might get rained out three days in a row."

Any rainy day contingencies of having Roth as the savior have been tossed. The Gamecocks will go with their best option in order to be in the best possible position.

Roth will oppose Virginia top gun Danny Hultzen (12-3, 1.41 ERA), who will be the fourth first-round draft pick he's been matched up against this season. Roth was able to limit the offenses of Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Connecticut while his teammates helped him beat Sonny Gray, Alex Meyer and Matt Barnes; he'll try to do it again and pitch the Gamecocks into title series.

"I feel great and ready to go," Roth said on Thursday. "I'll be on four days rest, which isn't a problem. I haven't thrown that all year but I feel great physically now. I've been working hard, getting some running in and in the training room. I'll be ready to go (Friday) if that's what we're going with."

Roth will have four days of rest after throwing 122 pitches in the Gamecocks' CWS opener, and should USC win, he could have another four days of rest before Game 2 of the title series. That would set up the same scenario -- either Roth is on the mound to keep the Gamecocks alive in the championship series, or he's on the mound to close out a title-series run.

As for where Koumas or No. 2 starter Colby Holmes fit in, that will be decided if the Gamecocks get to the title series.

"We're not looking past the next game," Meyers said. "We're trying to do everything we can to win this game."

The Gamecocks will try to keep their magic going, after winning a walk-off game against Texas A&M and then playing one of their best games of the year against Virginia. USC is in an unfamiliar spot of having the advantage, and knows full well how much momentum can be gained for the opposite dugout by playing for the next day.

"Our mindset isn't to try to take it easy or anything like that," Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "We're going to try to go out there and get it right away. If we don't finish it, we do have that luxury of falling back to another game. But we're really not looking forward to that next game."

The Gamecocks will go with their best option on the mound and try to play their best behind him. Virginia will do the same after a very tightly controlled game against the Golden Bears, the businesslike Cavaliers knowing they didn't play like themselves against the Gamecocks and taking it out on Cal.

One game, or possibly two, with the winner going to the championship series. USC is used to being the other team having to win two games, Virginia is hoping to keep the energy from one elimination-game win surging into two more.

"The good news is we got a mulligan," Tanner said. "We'd hate to have to use it."

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