FSU and Kent State say farewell; Gamecocks shut out Arkansas
Karma finally caught up with Florida State on Thursday night, as they fell to Arizona 10-3, in a fashion similar to the way FSU had been dismantling opponents all through the post-season. By the 5th inning, I think I can safely say that everyone in Columbia and Fayetteville were ready for the umps to implement a mercy rule, but alas, all post-season games must go at least 9 innings. Finally, around 8:30 EDT, the game ended. Arizona advances to the final series with the distinct advantage of extra rest, and FSU heads back to Tallahassee.
While Arizona was preparing their assault on FSU, the Gamecocks were playing for their lives against Kent State. After being rained out on Wednesday night, the NCAA and ESPN, in their infinite wisdom, decided that rather than use the built in off-day to be used in case of bad weather, the elimination game would be played at noon EDT, and the winner would have to play again that night. Way to make that one fair guys. Really. South Carolina is the 2 time defending national champions…shouldn’t we have some pull here? It ended up not making a difference, at least not on Thursday, but it may down the road.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified going into the Kent State game. The Golden Flashes had momentum, determination, and a desire to prove themselves. Hmmm…sounds a bit like the 2010 Gamecocks. Plus Kent State had been relatively solid throughout the tournament, making a few mistakes here and there, but in general looking like they deserved to be in Omaha. Especially after defeating Florida on Monday. So you can see why I was worried. I shouldn’t have been. With Michael Roth on the hill, throwing better than I’ve ever seen him throw, this one was well within the Gamecocks’ grasp. The star of this game was undoubtedly Roth, but let’s give credit to the bottom half of the lineup for 4 hits in the 2nd to score the Gamecocks’ first 2 runs, and to LB Dantzler who launched one over the right field bullpen to put the Gamecocks up 4-1 for good. I’m a bit sad to see Kent State go – they were really fun to watch, and they seem like a classy bunch of guys. Their coach certainly only had good things to say after the game, calling Roth “biggest superstar our game has. “He throws 85 mph. He just knows how to pitch. He does everything the right way. Great student. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.” Thanks for the kind words Coach. I’m sure we’ll see your team back in Omaha soon.
Roth had a game that will live on in the history books. He now officially owns the record for most innings pitched in the CWS with 53.2. He has never allowed more than 3 earned runs in a CWS start. On Thursday, he threw a complete game 2-hitter, and retired the last 22 batters he faced. Over the course of 9 innings, he threw 106 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. He didn’t walk a batter, and only had one 3-ball count, while striking out 8. This was, hands-down, Michael Roth’s best performance as a pitcher. And probably the one that will earn him a statue in front of Carolina Stadium. But the best part about Roth’s stellar performance? By throwing a complete game, it meant that the entire pitching staff (with the exception of Monday’s starter Colby Holmes) were rested and fresh to go against Arkansas that night if needed.
If I was nervous about playing Kent State, it was nothing compared to how twitchy I was while waiting for the Carolina / Arkansas game to start. Ray Tanner decided to start freshman Jordan Montgomery, who’d had a pretty solid year, but hadn’t pitched in about a month. As usual, Tanner’s decision paid off, and Monty threw 8 shutout innings. He walked one (and hit a batter), struck out 5, and threw 89 pitches, 56 of which were strikes. Monty came out in the 9th in favor of Matt Price, who did his usual thing and earned his 13th save. While watching Monty, did anyone else have flashbacks of Roth’s complete game against Clemson in Omaha in 2010? Because I sure did.
That’s not to say that Monty could have done it by himself. He was able to pitch with a 2 run lead, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Erik Payne & Grayson Greiner, and a base hit from Chase Vergason. After that, Arkansas starter Randall Fant was chased from the game, and the bullpen shut down the Gamecocks. But it didn’t matter. Thanks to some outstanding defense, especially from Joey Pankake and Christian Walker, the Gamecocks were equally able to shut down the Hogs. Carolina ultimately won the game, 2-0, setting up a rematch for Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT.
If you were watching Thursday’s games, you were watching history being made. Let’s just hope that that the Gamecocks can keep that spark going through tonight’s contest. The winner has a hot date with Arizona in the CWS final series which starts on Sunday. Colby Holmes will start the game for South Carolina, and DJ Baxendale will go for Arkanasas. The game will be on ESPN and ESPN3.com. Don’t be surprised if this game is as intense as yesterday’s – neither of these teams wants to leave quite yet.