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Huskies, Gamecocks Focus On This Weekend

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UConn celebrates defeat of Clemson (Sichard Shiro/AP Photo)

UConn celebrates defeat of Clemson (Sichard Shiro/AP Photo)

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By PETE IACOBELLI,  AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Connecticut’s baseball team hopes to carve
out its own space among its school’s athletic success when the
Huskies face South Carolina in the super regionals.

The Huskies’ LJ Mazilli says it’s difficult at times to play in
the shadow of the national champion men’s basketball team, the Big
East champion football team and Connecticut’s powerhouse women’s
basketball program.

Ace pitcher Matt Barnes says fans don’t start coming out in
force until temperatures in the Northeast warm up to well above
freezing.

Yet the baseball team is giving fans something to cheer about.
Connecticut (45-18-1) is seeking its first College World Series
appearance since 1979, but the task gets tougher Saturday at
Carolina Stadium against South Carolina (48-14) — the defending
national champions.

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Third baseman Adrian Morales was in the
shower when his named was called. Second baseman Scott Wingo went
to the movies. Closer Matt Price found out he was drafted from a
fan’s tweet.

Despite a third of South Carolina’s 33-man roster getting picked
by Major League Baseball clubs during the draft this week, the
defending national champions say they’re locked into a return trip
to Omaha –and not on their pro prospects once the season is done.

“Coach (Ray) Tanner said if we happen to win this weekend,
playing in Omaha is a lot better than playing in some small town in
a minor league where everybody will forget about us for a while,”
said John Taylor, a South Carolina relief pitcher who was among the
11 players picked in baseball’s three-day draft.

The Gamecocks (48-14) will play Connecticut (45-18-1) in a
best-of-3 NCAA super regional series starting Saturday night.

The Huskies have a few draft distractions of their own.

Outfielder George Springer and pitcher Matt Barnes were among 10
UConn players picked in the draft. Springer went 11th overall to
Houston and Barnes was selected No. 19 by Boston.

Huskies players say, they too, are focused on this weekend.

“There is always more out there on the table,” said
Connecticut catcher Doug Elliott, who went in the 35th round to
Milwaukee.

South Carolina players were excited about the team’s strong
showing in the draft.

“It’s a great thing to see everybody get drafted,” said South
Carolina sophomore outfielder Evan Marzilli.

Maybe too great.

Most college players spend their lives dreaming of the day when
they can start their pro careers– and the inevitable countdown to
when they make “The Show.” That’s heady stuff for most 20 and
21-year-olds.

Morales doesn’t see a problem.

Last year’s Gamecocks had their share of draftees, including
College World Series standouts like outfielder Whit Merrifield and
pitchers Sam Dyson and Blake Cooper, yet were able to win two
straight over Coastal Carolina in the super regionals and win six
straight to the national title.

He said the players are relieved the draft is done and they know
what’s ahead. “Now, it’s time to go. I don’t want to leave here
and not make it back to Omaha,” he said.

To do that, the Gamecocks will have to make it past gritty
Connecticut, which won a difficult regional at Clemson to advance.
South Carolina has relied on pitching, defense and just enough
offense to keep things going. The Gamecocks tied for the
Southeastern Conference regular-season crown despite missing Jackie
Bradley Jr. and Adam Matthews, two outfield starters, for much of
the final six weeks.

Bradley injured his left wrist at Mississippi State in April.

He’s still hoping to feel good enough this week to get in against
Connecticut.

“I’m getting my range of motion back,” he said. “Just taking
it day by day and hopefully I can get back out there and help out
the team.”

Morales had given up hope of a pick with only two rounds left
and had pledged that he’d do all he could to get back to Omaha.

Then came word and a wet Morales was ecstatic.

“It was very exciting for me and my family,” he said.

Taylor said the Seattle Mariners scout called to congratulate
him and tell him there was plenty of time to worry about signing
and focus on finishing his college career strong.

“That’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
Others plan to do the same.

Bradley, the CWS MVP last year considered a top-10 pick when the
season began, was selected early despite not playing since
mid-April. He was taken No. 40 overall by the Boston Red Sox.
Price, who has 17 saves this season, was the next to go, the
Arizona Diamondbacks picking him in the sixth round. Wingo went to
the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 11th round and shortstop Peter
Mooney to the Toronto Blue Jays in the 21st round.

Taylor was picked by Seattle in the 22nd round, Matthews went to
Baltimore a round later. Pitcher Bryan Harper, the older brother of
Washington rookie phenom Bryce Harper, was picked by the Nationals
in the 30th round.

Michael Roth, second in the country in Division I with a 1.10
ERA, went to Cleveland in the 31st round; pitcher-outfielder Steven
Neff went to San Francisco in the 41st round; pitcher Tyler Webb
went to Cincinnati in the 48th round with Morales the final
Gamecock to get drafted by Kansas City in the 49th round.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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