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.
Around 8 p.m. EST yesterday, a deflated and stunned Coach O’Sullivan and his Florida Gators looked on in disbelief as the Kent State’s right fielder, TJ Sutton, squeezed a fly ball to give the Golden Flashes a 5-4 victory. Raise your hand if you had Florida as the first team in bracket two to be knocked out. Anyone? Me neither. Totally didn’t see that one coming, but well done Kent State.
Not that is was an easy or a pretty victory. Kent State made more mistakes than they should have been able to get away with, but the Gators just couldn’t capitalize on anything. In the 9th, it looked like Florida might pull off a come back victory – the bases were loaded with one out. But, on a 3-2 count Casey Turgeon couldn’t check his swing (I fully agree with the umpires here, but I know a lot of people disagree. Bottom line? Turgeon brought his bat over half the plate and didn’t pull back in time), and struck out. Bases were still loaded for Justin Shafer, who promptly flied out to right field, cementing Florida’s loss. Would the outcome have been different if Florida starter Hudson Randall hadn’t left the game after the first due to dehydration? Maybe. But the Gators also made 2 errors, and just didn’t look like their heads were in the game, so maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Kent State, on its first ever trip to Omaha, defeated the #1 National Seed, and has a hot date with the 2 time defending national champions on Wednesday night.
Speaking of the 2 time defending national champions (I told you saying that would never get old), the Gamecocks couldn’t quite muster the offense to defeat Arkansas. The Hogs outstanding pitching held the Gamecocks in check. If just one of their outs had made it around a fielder, this game likely would have had a different outcome. But that’s baseball. If you want to win, you need to take the advice of former Major Leaguer Willie Keeler, and “hit it where they ain’t.”
Of course, you also need great pitching, which Arkansas had throughout the game. South Carolina didn’t have it until Tyler Webb took the hill in the 4th. Colby Holmes started the game for the ‘Cocks, but didn’t have his usual sharpness, and ultimately gave up 2 runs, which was all Arkansas needed. The Hogs are set to enjoy a couple of days off, while the Gamecocks will meet Kent State on Wednesday evening. Arkansas will play the winner of that game on Thursday night.
A couple of notes:
- Don’t discount the Golden Flashes. Wednesday’s game is not going to be an easy one to win. If you doubt that, I suggest you give Kevin O’Sullivan and company a call. Or call the Oregon baseball team. They’ll tell you exactly how tough a team Kent State is.
- Don’t be surprised if Michael Roth starts the game on Wednesday. Yes, it’ll be on 3 days rest, but really? How do you say no to your veteran ace in an elimination game? Webb probably won’t be available from the ‘pen, but everyone else should be ready to go. The Gamecocks have only used Roth, Holmes, Webb, and Price so far, so they’re in good shape.
- Despite the loss, the Gamecocks hold the NCAA record for consecutive post-season wins at 22, and the CWS consecutive win record at 12. As the Grateful Dead once said, “What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been.” Time for the Gamecocks to keep on Truckin’.
- Apparently some “fans” were giving the baseball team all kinds of grief on Twitter for losing last night. Not cool. As awesome as this win streak has been, everyone knew that the Gamecocks would have to lose sometime. These guys have never done anything but give their all to this game, this fan base, and this University. I guarantee they are more frustrated than the douchecanoes who called them out. But whereas said douchecanoes will only be able to scream and rail via Twitter (seriously?) and in their living rooms, the Carolina baseball team will be regrouping, supporting each other, and preparing both mentally and physically to take on Kent State. The baseball team may lose from time to time, but they’ve accomplished things that no one else has done and have set records that will stand for a long time. In other words, “U Can’t Touch This.”
In bracket one, UCLA and FSU meet tonight at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN and ESPN3.com. The winner will play Arizona on Thursday at 5 p.m. In bracket two, South Carolina and Kent State play Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.com. The winner will play Arkansas on Thursday at 9 p.m.
Well. I’m officially out of the business of making predictions, as I have really been falling flat this year. It’s been three great days of baseball, and I’m pretty sure today’s games will be equally awesome. Today’s games are at 5 and 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2 or ESPN3.com.
We’re going to recap this out-of-order, because this is a Gamecocks’ blog, so we should start with them.
Day Two, Bracket Two:
Let’s be honest. This bracket is the reason you’re reading this. It’s the one that features 3 SEC teams and the 2 time defending National Champion Gamecocks (saying that will never get old). We’ll get to the Gamecocks shortly, so just bear with me…
In the first game, Kent State, the only non-SEC team in this bracket, got a crash course in SEC baseball. They were held to 4 hits and 1 run by Arkansas’ formidable pitching roster. Arkansas, on the other hand, had a 3-0 lead going into the 6th inning. By the time the 9th rolled around, the Hogs were on top 8-1. And that’s how it ended. Kent State now has to play Florida in an elimination game. This could get ugly.
Now onto what was probably the most highly anticipated CWS game ever: South Carolina at Florida. The Gamecocks and the Gators are old frenemies. They played each other 3 times in the regular season, with Florida winning twice. Then in the SEC tournament, the Gators won again. The Gamecocks put a quick stop to that bit of Florida domination with a 7-3 win on Saturday night. Michael Roth, as we’ve all come to expect, had a pretty stellar outing, going 6 1/3 and allowing 3 runs on 7 hits. Tyler Webb came in and worked his magic to get 2 quick outs to end the 7th, and then it was Matt Price time. Price pitched the last two innings, allowing 2 hits and striking out 3, on his way to earning his 12th save this season, and setting the SEC record for career saves at 42.
But let’s be honest. Price wouldn’t even have been in the game if it hadn’t been for some stellar defense and timely hitting from the Gamecocks. Florida scored 2 runs in the 3rd, to give themselves the early lead. The Gators’ pitcher, Brian Johnson, was dealing, and for awhile it looked like the ‘Cocks might be headed for a date with Kent State. And then the 5th inning happened. The Gamecocks exploded for 5 runs to take the lead for good. Evan Marzilli led off the inning with a double, which Christian Walker followed with a single. Adam Matthews walked to load the bases. Erik Payne came up and smacked a triple to right center field to give the Gamecocks a 3-2 edge. LB Dantzler then launched a double to center field, scoring Payne. Dantzler was bunted to 3rd by Tanner English, and then scored on a single from Chase Vergason. 5-2 Gamecocks headed to the bottom of the 5th. Florida scored in the bottom of the inning, but that was it. Thanks to a bit of Florida self-destruction, the Gamecocks tacked on a pair in the 9th after a couple wild pitches and errant throws. Gamecocks take game 1 from the top-seeded Gators, 7-3.
Now onto the defense. While Florida was imploding, South Carolina was diving all over the field. Literally. It started with Michael Roth diving off the mound to catch a pop-up bunt. Then Chase Vergason got in on the action, flinging himself sideways to keep a ball from leaving the infield, and still making the play at 2nd base. Then Dante Rosenberg got in on the action, falling face first to the side of home plate to cut off a wild throw. And then there was Evan Marzilli, who leaped halfway across the outfield to complete an outstanding catch to start the 8th inning. The catch was good enough for the number 6 spot on Sports Center, and spawned all kinds of witticisms like the one that captions this picture:
In case you had something better to do than watch Gamecock baseball, you can watch the catch here:
Once again, the Gamecocks showed that they know how to play in Omaha. The win over Florida upped South Carolina’s post-season win streak to 22, and 12 consecutive CWS wins. What an amazing run.
Florida will face Kent State in an elimination game today at 5 p.m. South Carolina and Arkansas will meet at 9 p.m. Both games will be on ESPN2 or ESPN3.com The loser of the South Carolina/Arkansas game will play the winner of Florida/Kent State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.com.
Bracket One games after the jump….
So my predictions were a little off for the day one games. Stony Brook and FSU, both of whom I had playing in the bracket final, lost to their respective opponents. Stony Brook got slammed by UCLA, while FSU and Arizona battled it out until the 12th inning. Not a bad day for baseball. The first elimination game is Monday, so we’ll see who can pull off the win.
Now on to Bracket Two (nothing like waiting until the last minute, right? I mean, it’s not like the first game starts in an hour or anything….):
Kent State Golden Flashes: This is Kent State’s (46-18) first trip to Omaha. Ever. They’ve had a long road to get there. First there was that marathon game against Kentucky in the Gary, Ind. regional. Then there were three one-run games in the Eugene regional. The Flashes took game 1, 7-6, lost game 2, 3-2, then turned around and pulled off a 3-2 victory in game 3. In all honesty, I know very little about this team. I did my best to watch all of the super regional games, but playing on the west coast didn’t work out too well for my east coast bedtime. So I caught a few innings here and there, but not really enough to discuss this teams strengths and weaknesses. What I do know is that they have the ability to win close games. And in Omaha, that’s usually pretty important.
Arkansas Razorbacks: One of three SEC teams to make the cut, Arkansas is really only here because Baylor handed them the victory in game two of the Waco super regional. Two HBP with the bases loaded in the 9th inning? Has that ever happened before? At any rate, the Hogs went on to win what was a phenomenal pitcher’s duel in 10 innings, 1-0. Looks like the Hogs can hang in there when needed. The Gamecocks had one of their best series of the year against Arkansas. Just in case you don’t remember, you can refresh your memory here. I’m not sure that Arkansas is going to be in Omaha that long. I certainly think their first game with Kent State will be a good one. Two teams who know how to play tight games? Should be fun to watch.
Florida Gators: I’m not sure whose genius idea it was to put all three SEC teams on the same side of the bracket, but I can’t say that I like it. At the same time, it means that you know your opponent and how to prepare for them. And the Gamecocks certainly know the Gators. And the Gators are out for blood. Florida is as good as people say they are. They aren’t invincible – USC proved that by beating them 8-3 the first time they met this year – but they don’t go down without a fight. And after going down quietly in last year’s CWS final, the Gators have something to prove. As much as I want the Gamecocks to do the unthinkable and win a third consecutive title, my (imaginary) money is on Florida.
South Carolina Gamecocks: I don’t know what to do with this team. They constantly surprise me, which I why I think they could do it again and go all the way. But it will be a tough trip there. This is easily the tougher of the two brackets in Omaha. They played in a tough regional against their arch-rivals, Clemson, and then tackled an Oklahoma team who didn’t play nearly as well as they could have. Now the Gamecocks are slated to start a third title run against a Florida team who beat them twice in the regular season, and again in the SEC tournament. But, the beauty of baseball is that it is unpredictable. USC certainly has the tools to get back to the finals, but everything is contingent upon everyone gelling at the same time. With a 21 postseason game win streak on the line, the Gamecocks know what is at stake. They have the mental toughness to make it through. I predict we’ll be seeing a few ‘Cocks/Gators matchups in Omaha, as Arkansas and Kent State will bow out early. This will make for an amazing two weeks of baseball.
Arkansas and Kent State play at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday. South Carolina and Florida follow at 9 p.m. Both games are on ESPN and ESPN3.com. The losers of each game will meet on Monday at 5 p.m., and the winners will play on Monday at 9 p.m. Full coverage and brackets are available through the NCAA’s website.