After an 11 year absence, the URI Rams Baseball team has found itself back in the NCAA Tournament, and just a few victories away from the coveted College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
The road to Omaha is not an easy one, however. The Rams have arrived in Columbia, SC, and will face off against Regional site host, South Carolina, currently ranked #8 in the nation. If they want to survive the Regionals, they will have to outlast South Carolina, Duke, and UNC-Wilmington in a double elimination bracket.
Rhode Island is 0-1 all-time against the Gamecocks, dropping the lone meeting between the two clubs (17-8) back in 2011.
That game was also played at Founders Park, which was then named Carolina Stadium.
Playing for the Gamecocks in that game were Cranston, R.I. native Evan Marzilli as well as current Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Rhode Island is playing in its first NCAA Regional game in 11 years after having won the Atlantic 10's automatic bid to the tournament.
At the conference tournament, the Rams defeated host Fordham (10-1) on Thursday before easing past Davidson (13-4) on Friday to earn a spot in Saturday's championship game. Davidson later advanced out of the elimination bracket to set up a rematch for the conference title. A fresh Rhody pitching staff, combined with scorching hot bats, led URI to a 15-2 victory in the finals.
The offense was firing on all cylinders throughout the course of the tournament as the Rams used the long ball - seven home runs, to be exact - as well as timely base knocks to handle their opponents with relative ease.The Rams were as patient as they were aggressive the plate, combining to draw 20 walks over three games - a total which matched the most by a single team since the A-10 went to a seven- team tournament in 2013. Saint Louis also drew 20 walks that year, but did so in twice as many (6) games as Rhode Island.Overall, Rhody finished with a +21 run differential over the course of its three-game sweep to the conference crown. It was the most dominant team performance at an A-10 Championship since Charlotte outscored its opponents 44-9 (+35) en route to the 2007 Atlantic 10 title.The Rams also became the A-10's first #1 seed to sweep its way through the championship since Charlotte did so in 2011.It wasn't just the offense, though - Rhody also got it in the field. Eight different pitchers combined to allow just seven runs (six earned) over 27 innings of work. Perhaps more impressive was that six of those seven runs were scored on a pair of home runs - meaning that the only earned runs URI allowed throughout the entire tournament came on just two plays.When the pitching staff wasn't using inning-ending strikeouts to work out of jams, the Rams' defense came up with the big plays to keep runs off the board, including a double play in each game against the Wildcats. Overall, the opposition combined to strand 22 base-runners.
URI is led by second-team All-American pitcher Tyler Wilson, who has allowed just one earned run over his last 55.1 innings pitched. The sophomore southpaw leads the nation in wins (12) and is ranked third in both WHIP (0.79) and hits allowed per nine innings (4.44).
Offensively, the 1-2 punch of redshirt sophomore Chris Hess and junior Martin Figueroa powered the Rams throughout last weekend's A-10 tournament as the duo combined for 18 runs, 14 hits, eight walks and four RBI.
Cleanup hitter Ryan Olmo led all players at the conference championship with nine RBI. The senior outfielder also scored three runs of his own to join Hess and Figueroa (along with redshirt junior Ben Wessel) on the All-Championship team.
Sophomore Jordan Powell leads the Rams with a .351 batting average, 71 hits and 13 stolen bases.
The Gamecocks are eager to be back on the field after going two-and-out at the SEC Championship last week in Hoover, Ala. There, they lost to Ole Miss (10-4) and Texas A&M (4-1).
South Carolina is ranked as high as #6 in the national polls.
Friday starter Clark Schmidt - a 2016 third-team All-American - owns a 9-3 record to go along with a 2.96 ERA over 100.1 innings pitched. He has recorded 115 strikeouts with just 22 walks with opponents hitting .242 off of him.
Closer Josh Regan has the team's best ERA at 1.69 over 48.0 innings of work. He has registered 11 saves while holding the opposition to a .167 batting average.
Offensively, Gene Cone leads the Gamecocks with a .356 batting average, 39 walks and a .468 on-base percentage.
Dom Thompson-Williams is one of the team's top power threat, entering the game with a .529 slugging percentage to go along with seven homers, 15 doubles and three triples. He also leads the team in total hits (69), runs scored (50) and stolen bases (17).
Along with Come (.356) and Thompson-Williams (.329), Alex Destino (.322) and Marcus Mooney (.311) also are hitting north of .300. Destino leads South Carolina in home runs, with eight.