Rewind to last season.
South Carolina was everybodyâ€™s Cinderella – having never won a College World Series – and it felt as if everyone at Rosenblatt Stadium was on the Gamecocks side.
A season later the Gamecocks are back in the 2011 College World Series and a serious threat to repeat. Not only are conference foes Florida and Vanderbilt determined to derail South Carolina, but five other teams will also be fighting to claim the coveted NCAA championship in Omaha, Nebraska.
No longer will the College World Series be played at historic Rosenblatt Stadium. This year, the series will be played in the new TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha.
Here, new legends of the summer will rise.Â
To set the stage, six of the eight teams were nationally seeded entering the regionalâ€™s a week and half ago. Florida, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all took advantage of the national seed and enjoyed success while playing at their respective home stadiums.
Texas A&M came up just short of receiving a national seed. The Aggies tied for the regular season Big 12 championship with Texas and finished the season ranked 7th nationally according to Baseball America, so it was not a massive surprise when they upset a 5th ranked Florida State team in Tallahassee in the Super Regional.
The biggest surprise and the potential dark horse in this Series, though, has been the Golden Bears of California.
A team that was was told just last fall that they would not have a baseball program in 2012 due to lack of funding, somehow has had one of their best seasons in years, and has made the College World Series for the first time since 1992.
In an effort to save their program, California was able to garner $9 million in donations from alumni, former players, and current playerâ€™s parents, which has proven to be enough to save the program for good.
The community bond has obviously inspired the players, as they won a tough regional that was headlined by TCU the number 8 national seed. Following the regional win, Cal kept rolling through the Super Regional where they handled upstart program Dallas Baptist in two games.
The Golden Bears seem to be the obvious pick for a Cinderella story this year, and every team knows once you get to Omaha itâ€™s all about whose playing the best baseball mixed in with a little bit of luck.
Just look at the 2008 College World Series for example, Fresno State came in as a complete underdog and ran away with the championship. South Carolina last season was also a shocker.
In other words, donâ€™t be shocked if the Bears ride this momentum all the way to the finals and capture their first title since 1957.
However, Cal will be immediately tested, as they must face national one seed Virginia in the first round. Not to mention Virginia is lead by the number two pick in the 2011 MLB draft Danny Hultzen.
A 6â€™2 southpaw with 2-0 record and a 0.73 ERA in 12.1 IP through the regionals and Super Regionals, he can also hurt you with his bat too. In his 16 at-bats in the tournament he has eight hits, and six RBIâ€™s with an astounding .688 slugging percentage.
Florida, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina all tied for 1st place in the SEC regular season. Florida was able to win the SEC tournament but Vanderbilt and South Carolina have been the two most dominant teams in the tournament so far.
Vanderbilt has outscored its opponents 46-7 while South Carolina has dominated theirs 33-11.
All three teams seem like viable picks to win it all.
Down south, Texas and Texas A&M battled it out in conference all season. It only seems right that two are at Omaha together. Both teams will probably have the largest fan bases in attendance as well.
Texas is not only powered by two first round draft picks, but also the confidence of being one of the most successful programs in College World Series history.
The Longhorns have two-time College World Series champion manager Augio Garrido on their bench. Longhorn fans are hungry to see their team add there 7th national championship and pass LSU to take sole position of second most national championships.
North Carolina will be playing in their ninth College World Series and has yet to capture a title.
They came up one win short in 2006 losing to Oregon State in an 11-7 thriller.
To say the least, there is no clear-cut favorite when it comes to the College World Series â€“ which adds to the intrigue.
Yes, there are some great teams that seem likely to win, but you never know what is going to happen in Omaha especially in a year of change for the spectacle that is the College World Series.
With a new stadium as host, we can only hope it provides the excitement Rosenblatt always did.
First Round matchups (June 18-19)
- 1) Virginia v. California
- 4) South Carolina v. Texas A&M
- 2) Florida v. 7) Texas
- 3) North Carolina v. 6) Vanderbilt
*numbers indicate teams national seeding.