Championship Series Game
1 Recap: South Carolina 7, UCLA 1
UCLA Stumbles from Start
and Game Stories
College World Series Capsules
(Photos by Sean Ryan)
Neb. – Midway through last season,
South Carolina pitching coach Mark Calvi sat Blake Cooper
(right with Erin Andrews) down and had a heart-to-heart with his junior pitcher.
Cooper had hit the wall. Life on the road and too
many fast food delicacies were starting to take their toll.
Cooper was gaining weight and losing his edge.
“It’s hard on the road to stay in the shape in
the middle of the year that you were to start the year,” Calvi
said. “It was happening gradually. It got to the point that he
wasn’t able to make pitches, he wasn’t as efficient.”
So Calvi told Cooper like it was.
“Coach Calvi has been a mentor to me,” Cooper
said Monday night after baffling UCLA for eight-plus innings in
the Gamecocks’ 7-1 win to open the College World Series
best-of-three championship. “He told me, you’re going to do
Starting after that conversation, Cooper traded
fast food for grilled chicken and fish. He picked up his
conditioning. And he saw results. Calvi said that while most
pitchers are losing steam at the end of the year, Cooper was
gaining strength and pitching his best down the stretch.
Summer arrived, and Cooper worked harder.
“The kid was running stadium stairs with a 30,
40-pound weight vest on in 100 degree heat,” Calvi said. Other
teammates joined Cooper, but “he was the ringleader. He was the
one who had guys out with him.”
Cooper said he’d spend some three or four hours a
day at the field working out.
“It was 100 degrees, it had to be because I was
sweating to death out there,” Cooper said. “I guess it was tough
for me this summer, but I had strong determination and I was
able to get through it and now I’m seeing it’s paid off.”
In a big way.
Cooper improved to 13-2 by completely shutting
down the Bruins – three hits, one earned run, one walk and 10
strikeouts in eight-plus innings. He mixed a tumbling change up
with a very good slider to compensate for an upper 80s fastball
that normally sits in the low 90s but was a little off with
Cooper throwing on three days’ rest.
And he did it against one of the best pitchers in
the country – again.
Cooper has squared off against first-round picks
Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) and Asher Wojciechowski (The Citadel),
second-round pick Drew Smyly (Arkansas), fourth-round pick Bryan
Morgado (Tennessee) and projected first-rounder Sonny Gray
(Vanderbilt) this season. Cooper – a 12th round pick of the
Arizona Diamondbacks this year – has beaten every one of them.
Monday night, he got the best of former
first-rounder Gerrit Cole.
“To play the game at this level and when you’re
5-9, you’ve got to have a chip on your shoulder,” Calvi said.
“And he does, the kid has a chip on his shoulder.
“I’ve seen so many 6-foot-4 guys who are soft.
They take what they have for granted. Blake Cooper doesn’t take
what he has for granted. He pitches with an edge. He pitches
with an ‘I’ll-show-you’ attitude. And that’s exactly what he’s
done all year.”
It may help that Cooper hails from tiny Neeses,
S.C., a one-stoplight town about an hour south of Columbia. He
likes to fish and hunt. And he clearly welcomes the challenge
that comes with being the Friday night ace.
“I guess it helps me out because I know I’ve got
to go out and throw zeroes against them,” he said.
Cooper did that again Monday night and has put
the Gamecocks in good shape to win their first national title.
Working on his own shape may have made all the