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.
I could very easily write this post in only caps lock and exclamation points, there were so many highlights to this past weekend’s series with Arkansas. I’ll do my best to refrain, but no promises.
Everyone knew what a big series this was. Heading into the series, Arkansas boasted an SEC leading team ERA of 2.61, which was also good enough to be 3rd nationally. As finicky as USC’s bats have been, it seemed like it might be an uphill battle. Fortunately for the Gamecock faithful, USC played a spectacular series of baseball. Even Saturday’s loss had some highlights. These may have been the most solid three games that the Gamecocks have played this year. If they can springboard that success into the upcoming games with Georgia and LSU, they will have put themselves in a prime position for another post season run.
ADAM MATTHEWS!!!! What a weekend for the senior rightfielder. Matthews threw out two runners at the plate on Sunday (!) and ignited the Gamecocks’ scoring drive in Sunday’s game with a two-out RBI single in the 7th.
GRAYSON GREINER!!!! The Gamecocks’ freshman catcher was behind the plate for each of the 28 innings played this weekend. He threw out five runners (!) over the course of the weekend. Greiner also was the key to Friday’s come-from-behind victory, hitting a 2-run home run, a sac fly, and an RBI single in the 10th. On Sunday, Greiner added another two RBI to his total, as he knocked in a pair with a single during the Gamecock’s big scoring rally in the 8th.
FORREST KOUMAS!!! After being out for a month with an injury, Koumas looked great through 5.1 innings on Sunday. It was only his second start of the year. He struck out four, walked two, gave up five hits, and, most importantly, did not allow a run. Not too shabby for a guy who hasn’t seen too much action this year.
CHASE VERGASON!!! The 2nd baseman hit .500 for the weekend, including a home run, two doubles, and 3 RBI. Vergason has been solid on defense all year too, and appears to have emerged as the everyday 2nd baseman down the stretch.
I could go on, citing each player on the Gamecocks’ roster and listing their accomplishments against Arkansas, but I think that would get too long, given that everyone contributed something this weekend.
Not that it was easy. Arkansas is a fantastic baseball team. The Razorbacks led the Gamecocks in each of the three games. If not for the ‘Cocks finally figuring out how to rally, Arkansas would have had the sweep. This was one of the best played and hardest fought series of the year. I have no doubt that the Razorbacks will enjoy a nice post-season run – they have all the tools to play deep into June. Right now, it looks like the Gamecocks are getting hot at the right time, so it may be that these two teams face each other again in a month. But, baseball is a fickle game, which is part of its beauty. Anything can happen, but frankly, I’d be surprised not to see one, if not both, of these teams playing in Omaha in June.
vs. Furman – 5/9 at 7 p.m. (FS South / FS Carolinas)
at Georgia – 5/11 at 7 p.m.
at Georgia – 5/12 at 1 p.m. (CSS / TWC Channel 506)
at Georgia – 5/13 at 2 p.m.
The Gamecocks are currently ranked #4 in the Baseball America poll, #3 in the NCBWA poll, and #3 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. The Gamecocks are currently tied for 1st place in the SEC with LSU, and is one game ahead of Kentucky in the SEC East.