Last night, South Carolina won the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament by virtue of a thrilling 11-inning, walk-off win against #6 UCLA, 3-2. The Gamecocks were at the top of the SEC throughout the regular season, battling with Florida for the league's top spot for most of the year, and despite being overlooked throughout the College World Series, the team bounced back from an opening game loss to earn the school's second-ever national championship. The silver lining here for Vanderbilt fans that had to watch a divisional rival culminate their season with a happy dogpile in the middle of an Omaha baseball stadium? The fact that the Commodores played South Carolina tougher than almost any other opponent the NCAA champions faced in 2010.
As is the case with the end of most Vandy athletic seasons, this one ends with a moral victory if you view it through the right lens. Throughout the season, only East Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky proved they could hang with the Gamecocks during the regular season. Though the Commodores lost their series in Nashville, the young squad hung tough in their two losses - a pair of low-scoring games decided by a total of three runs - and won big in an 8-2 rout in game two. Need more inspiring news? The players that performed the best against the champs are all coming back next year - Sonny Gray, Jack Armstrong, Joe Loftus, Connor Harrell, and Anthony Gomez.
However, at the same time, South Carolina bested Vanderbilt in the SEC rankings concerning national championships. For the past three years, the two schools had been knotted at one apiece - and tied for ninth amongst all SEC schools. With the win, the formerly quasi-irrelevant Gamecock athletic department picked up the major championship the university had been aiming for, and the legitimacy the school had been craving in the Southeastern Conference. After decades of work, South Carolina has shed their bridesmaid status, leaving Vanderbilt in its dust.
Now, the Commodores reign over only the Mississippi schools due to their superiority in women's bowling, and the conference boasts just three members that lack a major national championship. But with the inspiration of South Carolina's recent run and Vanderbilt's ability to hang on to super-coach Tim Corbin, that gap is more likely to shrink than expand. The 'Dores will catch the Gamecocks in the SEC rankings again - and probably in Omaha. If you think seeing the kids they battled with over three tight games in Nashville celebrating at Rosenblatt Stadium didn't inspire this year's crop of Commodores, then you don't understand this team.