South Carolina won its first national championship the hard way last June.
The Gamecocks will make a run at a second from a different tack after Tuesday's dominating performance in a 7-1 win over Virginia left them in control of Bracket Two at the College World Series.
The victory, before 22,027 fans at TD Ameritrade Park, advanced South Carolina unbeaten into Friday's bracket championship game. By starting 2-0, the Gamecocks are guaranteed two chances to pick up the one win that will put them into next week's best-of-three championship series.
“It puts you in a good spot," South Carolina center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “But we know that we're a long way from where we need to be. It's still early.
“We're not taking anything for granted, but we're in a good situation right now. We're going to try to take advantage of it as much as possible."
Tuesday's win ran South Carolina's winning streak in Omaha to eight. It started last June after the Gamecocks lost their first CWS game, then ran off six straight victories, four in elimination scenarios, to win the title.
South Carolina also has won 13 straight NCAA tournament games, tying the record set by Southern California from 1972 through 1974 and tied by Louisiana State in 1997 and 1998.
That meant little to South Carolina coach Ray Tanner after his team posted a fifth victory this season over a team ranked No. 1.
“I'm ecstatic to be in the position that we're in right now," Tanner said. “As I told our players afterwards, we won our first two, but that's not the ultimate here. You've got to keep winning."
Now 52-14, South Carolina played what Tanner called one of its best games of the season against a Virginia team that was the tournament's overall No. 1 national seed as well as the top-ranked club in two of the four national rankings.
The Gamecocks banged out 13 hits, including five for extra bases in building a 6-0 lead in the first three innings. They got a solid start from Colby Holmes and standout relief work from John Taylor, who needed two pitches in the fifth inning to defuse a potential Virginia rally. To top it off, South Carolina played errorless ball, turned two double plays and almost had a third.
“We played probably one of our better games of the year tonight," Tanner said. “We probably can't play better than that."
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor will have to hope his team can when it returns to the field Thursday in an elimination game against California, which won Tuesday's other Bracket Two game and knocked Texas A&M out of the tournament with a 7-3 victory.
The Cavaliers (55-11) managed just five hits and saw 11-game winner Will Roberts fail to get out of the fourth inning. Virginia, tied for fourth nationally in fielding percentage, made three errors — two coming in the first inning when it fell behind 3-0.
Roberts was an out away from a perfect inning when third baseman Steven Proscia mishandled Christian Walker's two-out grounder. Bradley followed with an RBI double, then scored on Adrian Morales' single. A throwing error on the play put Morales on second, and he scored on Brady Thomas' double.
“I make that play in the first inning and that could change the total complexion of the game," Proscia said. “Our defense has been there all year, and we just didn't have it tonight."
Neither did Roberts, who brought a 1.58 ERA into the game. He gave up eight hits and six runs (three earned) in a 3.1-inning start that was his shortest of the season.
“I just didn't really have it all day," Roberts said. “I wasn't able to put people away with two strikes. I felt like it was a battle every at-bat. Nothing really came easy, which is a credit to their hitters."
South Carolina tacked on a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Holmes didn't allow a hit until John Hicks homered with one in the fourth. Then, when Virginia threatened in the fifth, loading the bases with one out, Taylor came on and ended the inning with a double play.
Virginia never threatened again and now faces having to win three games in three days to have a chance to play for a championship next week.
“We're obviously very disappointed in our play this evening," O'Connor said. “South Carolina beat us in every phase of the game. We didn't do the fundamental things it takes to win at this level.
“That being said, that's why it's a double-elimination tournament. We'll look forward to showing what we're capable of doing on Thursday night."