Gamecocks feel title is theirs alone

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina first baseman Christian Walker doesn't mind sharing, not when he says everyone knows who the true Southeastern Conference champions are anyway.

The SEC record books will list the Gamecocks as co-champions at 22-8 in league play this season alongside Florida and Vanderbilt. South Carolina, though, took three-game series from both its SEC Eastern Division rivals during the year and grabbed the No. 1 seed for this week's SEC tournament.

Walker said the defending national champions worked hard for their spot atop the standings.

"We're not going to let the 'co-' part ruin it for us," he said.

Coach Ray Tanner sure hasn't.

It was an uphill battle for the Gamecocks to win the SEC regular-season crown for the first time since 2002. They had to overcome the loss of critical personnel from last year's College World Series team, including pitchers Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson and outfielder Whit Merrifield.

A rash of injuries also sidelined star outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for much of the past month.

"For all the adversity that we faced this year, for the guys to end up where they did, I couldn't be more proud," Tanner said.

South Carolina got a bit more validation Monday when both the Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America rankings put the Gamecocks at No. 1.

The Gamecocks appear to be the kind of group that can handle the top spot heading into the postseason.

They lost their first game at the CWS a year ago before reeling off six games in a row to win the title. Despite mounting injuries -- starting outfielder Adam Matthews has been out of the lineup since mid-April with hamstring issues -- the Gamecocks dropped just one of their 10 SEC series.

South Carolina looked like its luck might have run out when it managed only five hits in a 2-1 loss at Alabama to start the final series. But the Gamecocks rebounded with back-to-back victories, the last a 3-2 win in which closer Matt Price got out of a two-out, two-on jam in the eighth to claim South Carolina's share of the title.

"We still see that we're SEC champions," said Michael Roth, South Carolina's top starting pitcher who leads the SEC with a 1.28 ERA. "We did come together as a team because we had a lot of stuff to go through. It shows what kind of team we are."

The Gamecocks will likely have to rely on those qualities the rest of the postseason.

Tanner said Bradley, a junior outfielder expected to go in the first round, should have the cast on his wrist removed Friday, but there's no timetable for him to play soon.

Matthews looked better in chasing down balls Monday before the team left for the Hoover, Ala., tournament site, but he also hasn't yet shown the comfort to return.

Versatile catcher-designated hitter Brady Thomas missed the last regular-season game with a foot injury. Reliever John Taylor has been bothered with a stomach virus and didn't travel with the team back to Alabama, Tanner said. He is expected to travel separately once he feels better.

Tiger honored

Clemson shortstop Brad Miller has been named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.

It's the first time since Khalil Greene in 2002 that a Clemson player has been so honored. Miller was selected by the ACC coaches after leading the league with a .431 batting average and a .536 on-base percentage. The junior from Windermere, Fla., also had 11 doubles, three triples, 44 RBI and a team-leading 21 stolen bases. He is Clemson's 12th ACC player of the year.

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etlinks
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etlinks 05/24/11 - 05:44 am
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Proud of this team and the

Proud of this team and the way they handled all the injuries. Hope they go all the way again.

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