We fell in love with Florida’s endless supply of young talent and offensive power. We couldn’t get past a Vanderbilt roster that included a Southeastern Conference-record 12 players selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
Looking back, we should have seen South Carolina coming.
The Gamecocks fooled us last year, too, when they closed Rosenblatt Stadium with a surprising sweep of UCLA in the College World Series finals.
That team had to battle out of the losers bracket to beat the powerful Bruins. That team made a habit of nagging opponents with solid pitching and defense, hanging around until the late innings and finding ways to win at the end.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner had plenty of familiar faces back in Omaha this year, but it?s not like the Gamecocks returned to the CWS wearing a giant bull?s-eye.
Why did we expect anything less than the scene Tuesday night? Why did we think the first CWS at new TD Ameritrade Park would end any differently than the last one at Rosenblatt?
Few teams have dominated college baseball?s postseason like these Gamecocks have.
With a 5-2 victory over Florida to clinch its second straight national title, South Carolina won its 16th straight NCAA tournament game and its 11th straight CWS game ? both records.
And the funny thing is, it felt like an upset.
The Gamecocks had only two players taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft. They waited until the sixth inning of Tuesday?s finale to hit their first CWS homer after going more than four games without one.
But what they lacked in scout-friendly talent and fan-friendly power, they made up for in pitching, defense and grit.
No one embodied South Carolina?s personality better than ace lefty Michael Roth, a sixth-round pick despite going 14-3 with a 1.06 ERA his junior year. The returning CWS star overpowered very few, but he got just about everybody out.
Pecking away at the corners of the strike zone, Roth confounded Florida’s hitters Tuesday with an array of off-speed magic. He wiggled out of trouble every time Florida started to threaten him. He threw 127 pitches on three days rest.
From top to bottom, South Carolina was a team of Michael Roths ? unflappable, persistent and championship-level effective.
Opponents like Virginia, the No. 1 national seed, and Florida routinely stranded base runners and made crucial defensive mistakes with the game on the line.
The Gamecocks did not.
They hung around. They made plays in pivotal spots. They found a way to win.
That proved to be the perfect recipe in a CWS marked by low-scoring affairs mostly decided in the late innings.
The Gamecocks won more of the close ones than anybody else, surviving three one-run scares in their quest for back-to-back national championships.
Given what they showed us last year, we should have seen it coming.