Usc baseball

Baseball alumni gather: Championships, near titles recalled

nwhite@thestate.comOctober 4, 2013 

There’s nothing quite like that first time.

For the players on the 2010 South Carolina baseball team, the one that claimed the program’s first national championship, the memories are forever.

Friday night at Carolina Stadium, more than 100 players from across USC’s long baseball history gathered for an alumni game, including a handful who were part of the epic 11-inning, 2-1 win against UCLA in the national title game that closed Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.

Adrian Morales, the third baseman who batted .273 with nine homers and 56 RBIs on that team, never will forget those special times.

“It means a lot. The chemistry we had was like no other team that I’ve ever been on,” said Morales, who serves as USC’s student assistant coach.

Eight previous teams had reached the CWS before that season, including three that made it to the championship game before losing. But the 2010 team finished the job.

Blake Cooper, the senior right-hander who led the pitching staff that season with a 13-2 mark and 2.76 ERA, noted their camaraderie.

“In 2010, we were a team of great friends on and off the field,” said Cooper, who pitched in Double-A this season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. “We liked to hang out together and do things together. That helped us on the field. Each and every one of us pulled for each other.”

The stories were flying on this night, and not just about 2010. Pitchers Randy Martz and Jim Lewis, who anchored the 1977 staff on a team that lost to Arizona State in the national title game, were there. Both went on to pitch in the major leagues.

Also in attendance were former New York Yankees star Bobby Richardson, who jump-started the program’s success when he arrived as the coach in 1970 and led the team to the 1975 title game, and his successor, June Raines, who guided the program to the CWS four times after he took over in 1977.

Morales got a big kick out of seeing the many former standouts.

“It’s good to see all the older guys come from back in the day. The two national championships we won were for them, too,” Morales said. “They played here and were a part of everything that went on (in 2010 and 2011). It’s good to see them having fun and looking young.”

The Gamecocks, who repeated their success in 2011 with another championship to open TD Ameritrade Park, remain a big part in the lives of the former players. Steven Neff, a two-way player on the two title teams, enjoyed the experience of returning to Carolina Stadium.

“It’s always great to be back on this field and put on this uniform again. It’s a dream come true just to wear this uniform,” said Neff, who pitched this season in the San Francisco Giants organization. “To see all these older guys who played for College World Series teams, it’s great to meet them. They were role models for us back in the day.”

Others who played in the majors in attendance on the night included Tripp Cromer, Kevin Melillo, Steven Tolleson and Brian Buscher, who serves as a USC assistant coach.

But a select few claimed national championship rings, a list that also included former catcher Kyle Enders and former pitchers John Taylor and Patrick Sullivan.

“Now that it’s a few years later and I’m done playing, it’s an honor to say I was a part of that first national championship team,” Enders said. “It’s hard to keep in touch with a lot of the guys who played with you. It’s great to come back to an event like this and catch up and share stories with guys you haven’t seen in years.”

Taylor agreed.

“It could have been any of these guys. I just got lucky that it was my two years here,” Taylor said. “All these guys put in a lot of work like we did. It was special to be a part of that.”

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