Gamecocks beat Oklahoma; head back to Omaha
What an incredible Super Regional round! Some teams’ weaknesses were exposed (is Stanford that bad or is Florida State that good?), ESPN got their token “Cinderella Story” when Stony Brook beat LSU (seriously, what was going on in Baton Rouge? Raise your hand if you saw that coming…), some teams shot themselves in the foot (see also: Baylor / Arkansas game 2), some teams played 3 incredibly hard fought games (Baylor / Arkansas and Kent State / Oregon), and some of the teams won when they were supposed to (Florida, UCLA, Arizona). Even a casual baseball fan could have enjoyed any of these series (unless, I suppose you were a fan of NC State, TCU, LSU, St. John’s, Stanford, Oregon, or Baylor ). As a baseball nut, I was in heaven. Except when it came to the Carolina games. Then I was pacing around my living room, biting my nails, and tearing out my hair.
But even the Carolina / Oklahoma series was fantastic. In Game 1, USC was firing on all cylinders. I just kept waiting for something to go wrong, but nothing did. Even the few mistakes that were made had no consequences. Michael Roth pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his last home start at Carolina Stadium. When he handed the ball to Tyler Webb to finish out the game, the noise was deafening. All of Carolina Stadium was on its feet. I was standing in my living room, admittedly a little teary-eyed, applauding. What the Gamecocks will do without this kid, I can’t even fathom. But I’m pretty sure that this fabulous letter from Justin King sums up the feeling of Gamecock Nation. Thank you, Michael.
Let’s be honest though. Roth wasn’t the only one playing his heart out on Saturday night. The bats were going. Hits were happening when they needed to. Evan Marzilli & Christian Walker each had a pair of hits. Four different Gamecocks had an RBI (and Erik Payne scored on a wild pitch). Everything was going USC’s way on Saturday.
Game 2 on Sunday was an amazing pitchers duel. Colby Holmes and Jonathan Gray were outstanding, each holding the other team scoreless. At least through 5 and 6 innings respectively. Until the rains came. Then we sat through an interminable overnight delay before continuing the game on Monday afternoon. Tyler Webb took over for Holmes. Steven Okert, OU’s closer, took over for Gray.
Webb looked a little bit shaky, but still managed to keep Oklahoma from scoring in the 6th. Then the Gamecocks came up in the 7th. Connor Bright led off with a double, then TJ Costen came in to pinch run for him. Tanner English laid down an utterly gorgeous bunt that was fielded cleanly. However, the Sooners’ first baseman threw to third to try to get Costen, but his throw sailed into left field, allowing Costen to score the game’s first run. On the throwing error, English moved up to 2nd base. Chase Vergason came up next and bunted English to 3rd. A wild pitch from Okert sent English scampering home. Gamecocks up 2-0.
Webb came back out to start bottom of the 7th. He walked the first batter he faced, and was promptly pulled in favor of Evan Beal. Beal came in and walked the first batter he faced. And with 2 on, nobody out, and a minuscule 2-run lead, it was Matt Price time. Oklahoma did manage to get a run, but thanks to an amazing throw from Dante Rosenberg, and Price’s skill on the mound, it was only 1 run. 2-1 headed to the 8th.
Christian Walker flied out to start the inning, but back to back hits from Adam Matthews and LB Dantzler put runners on the corners with 1 out. Costen came up and struck out. 2 outs. Tanner English, bunt-master extraordinaire, pushed one towards second base to score Matthews and push Dantzler to third. Oh, and did I mention that English beat out the throw? Of course he did. Runners at the corners with two outs for Vergason. Who launched one into left center field to score Dantzler and English. 5-1 Gamecocks, courtesy of Vergason’s double. Rosenberg made the last out, but the Gamecocks took a 4 run lead into the bottom of the 9th.
Fly out to center field. 2 outs from Omaha. Ground ball to shortstop. Pankake, from deep in the hole made a spectacular grab and throw to get the runner at first. 1 out from Omaha. As you can imagine, I was pacing around my house, digging my nails into my palms. Price walked the next batter. Gamecock Nation held its collective breath. STRIKEOUT!!!! Gamecocks win, 5-1! Back to Omaha we go!
So in this game: not only did the Gamecocks continue their record setting 21 game postseason win streak, but Matt Price also tied the SEC career saves record (with Joshua Field from Georgia). It was also the likely the last home game for Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli, and Matt Price. All three got absurd ovations from the Carolina faithful. Walker & Marzilli during their last at bats, and Matt Price when he came out of the ‘pen in the 7th. It gave me chills, and I was simply watching from my living room.
One last order of business before our favorite juniors and seniors head to the Show: another run at a National Title. Back home in Omaha indeed.
USC will be the visitors against Florida on Saturday night at 9 p.m. EST.