No matter what, SEC wins at CWS
Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 10:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 10:49 p.m.
OMAHA, Neb. — Ray Tanner was a young coach attending the fall SEC baseball meetings when another coach in the league stood up to talk.
“I'll never forget,” said the South Carolina coach. “We were talking about our league and trying to continue to do the things to keep us near the top. And one of the coaches said, ‘Our league is tremendously exciting, but very dangerous.' And that's what it is.”
The coach was Andy Lopez, then the head coach at Florida.
It's only become more difficult.
The SEC will take home a third straight NCAA baseball championship this week. That much is guaranteed with Florida and South Carolina facing off in the best-of-3 series starting Monday night.
“The SEC is very deep,” said Florida catcher Mike Zunino. “All 12 teams in there are extremely competitive. I mean, all eight teams that made the (SEC) tournament made a regional.”
Said South Carolina pitcher Michael Roth, “It's a battle every weekend. You never get a weekend off.”
Playing against such tough competition helped prepare the players on both teams for the postseason. Certainly, there is a sense of pride that three of the final four teams at the College World Series were from the conference. The league is even hosting a SEC Happy Hour at an Omaha restaurant after tonight's game.
This is the first time since 1998 that two teams that play in the same conference have met for the championship.
But the grind of 30 games in this league (plus the SEC Tournament) can wear on a coach.
“It's not easy,” said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. “I was talking to someone (Sunday) morning about that. I remember going to Arkansas at the end of the year. We lost the Thursday night game and Friday night and we're just trying to scramble to get the third game. And we got (Karsten) Whitson going and he's pretty good and they're hitting balls all over the field against him.
“Every weekend is difficult. I think it's what separates this league from most. There's no let-up from any weekend to weekend. It certainly helps your players stay on their toes.”
Tanner remembered when he got into the league 15 years ago.
“I think early on it dawned on me that I might be the team that got circled on the schedule,” he said. “We got a little better and I started looking for a team or two you could circle for a two-out-of-three weekend. There might have been one after a couple of years and then that disappeared.
“It's just non-existent. There's nobody to play. Everybody's good. That's how good the teams are. I mean, you can go from first to worst. That's the way it is in our league.”