OMAHA, Neb. - The run is over. Two straight national championships - an incredible feat - is all that South Carolina could muster. Arizona won the first national championship for the Pac 12 since 2007 registering a 4-1 victory ending the Gamecocks’ two-year reign as title holders.
Junior Matt Price
The Wildcats (48-17) scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning off of closer Matt Price and were able to hang on despite loading the bases in the bottom half of the inning.
In the end, though, the Gamecocks (49-20) couldn’t come through with the big hit it needed and was lacking for most of the College World Series.
“It’s disappointing tonight,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “We battled hard and did everything possible to win tonight except come up with a few clutch hits. We got right back in the thing. We fought, we scrapped, we battled but we just didn’t do enough on the offensive side.”
After the CWS opener against Florida, the Gamecocks posted a .181 batting average (33-for-181) over the final six games, during which the team scored just 12 runs.
South Carolina - as it has been known to do over the three-year run that includes 158 wins, two national titles, and 30 postseason victories - fought to the very end loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth.
The one big hit just never came. Arizona starter James Farris tossed eight innings allowing one run on just three hits.
The staff threw five complete games in the NCAA Tournament, which is the most of any school since 2004.
“We can put some stuff together,” junior Chase Vergason said of a potential ninth inning rally. “We thought we had a run in there and you never know with this team. We were close. No cigar.”
Junior Robert Refsnyder
Senior Michael Roth, making a College World Series record eighth career start, retired 28 straight hitters dating back to Friday’s start against Kent but that streak was broken in the top of the third inning. First baseman Joe Maggi, hitting .324 on the year, bounced a double just inside the third base bag to begin the frame and then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt.
With the score tied and early in the game, Tanner elected to keep his defense back in the middle and concede the run. Nine-hole hitter Trent Gilbert took advantage of that opportunity as his weak ground ball scored Maggi easily and Arizona took an early lead.
The Wildcats outscored their opponents 20-2 in innings 1-4 at this year’s MCWS. South Carolina, on the other hand, was outscored 11-6 over those innings in Omaha.
South Carolina, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going offensively. Farris didn’t allow a leadoff hitter to reach until the top of the seventh inning and only allowed one hit - a two-out single in the fourth - through the first six innings.
“You have to give credit to Farris and Arizona for making plays,” Tanner said. “They had a couple of nice defensive plays as well and that’s part of it.”
The Gamecocks had quite a few hard-hit balls on the evening but nothing could seem to find a hole. Freshman Grayson Greiner and Vergason both hit line drives to the warning track, which probably would have carried over the wall in most ballparks, but it was nothing more than an out at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Roth held the hot bats of Arizona quiet throughout most of the game giving up just one run on three hits in 6.2 innings pitched. He left to a standing ovation from the crowd of 23,872 with two runners on and gave way to closer Matt Price.
“Michael gave us a great start,” Tanner said. “We just didn’t do enough on the offensive side. “
The seventh is when things changed as junior Christian Walker worked a 12-pitch walk to begin the inning. Senior Adam Matthews bounced a hit-and-run single through the right side, which put Walker 90 feet away from tying the game with one out.
Freshman Kyle Martin, who was 2-for-11 in the College World Series and 0-for-2 in the game, hit a slow roller to first base. Defensive replacement Brandon Dixon didn’t have a chance to turn an inning-ending double play but he also didn’t look Walker back to third base. When he flipped to first for the out, Walker took home and tied the game at one apiece.
A tough call went against South Carolina in the eighth inning when freshman Joey Pankake was wrung up on a full count pitch that appeared to be low and outside. Vergason was on third base, just 90 feet away, with Walker waiting on deck. Walker, in the ninth, went on to tie the CWS record for hits with 28.
“Eventually, that’s going to get you,” Tanner said about the lack of runs. “In the end, if you have to put your finger on one thing, it’s run output. We just didn’t get enough runs on the board.”
The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead on an RBI double just inside the third base bag by Brandon Dixon, who entered the game for defense in the middle innings. One run isn’t an insurmountable lead but when leadoff hitter Joey Rickard knocked a two-out, two-RBI single to right field to make the score 4-1, that seemed to be it for South Carolina, which had scored just two runs in 17 innings against Arizona.
Price, who was so dominant in his previous 12 CWS appearances allowing just one earned run, allowed three earned runs in 1.2 innings.
The Gamecocks tried to make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Walker singled and Dantzler walked to begin the inning. The Gamecocks had the tying run come to the plate on three occasions but just couldn’t get the big hit.
Matthews struck out swinging in his final at-bat in a South Carolina uniform for the first out. A walk to Martin loaded the bases bringing the tying run to the plate. The Gamecocks were just inches away from scoring and losing when English hit a line drive back up the middle.
“When you see the ball squared up with the bases loaded, you kind of cringe a little bit,” Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said. “I thought it was going through.”
English put solid contact on a 1-2 pitch and lined it back up the middle. Off the bat, it looked like it was ticketed for centerfield but Gilbert appeared and snatched the ball out of the air. He was almost able to double off Dantzler at second base to end the game, but the junior got back just in time.
“I hit a line drive at the second baseman,” English said. “What are you going to do? They were pinching me up the middle a little bit and I hit it right at him.”
That brought Greiner up needing either a home run to win it or gap shot to potential tie the game. Instead, however, CWS Most Outstanding Player Robert Refsnyder caught the game-winning pop out to give the Wildcats their first championship since 1986 in baseball.
Arizona has won 11 consecutive games and 18 of its last 20. Arizona closed the MCWS with a team ERA of 1.13 over five games (eight runs in 48 innings). During the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats allowed 20 earned runs in 94.0 innings for a 1.91 ERA.
South Carolina finishes the season 49-20. The team will be welcomed back to Carolina Stadium on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
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