OMAHA, Neb. - Three wins in 33 hours has South Carolina back in the national championship series. The Gamecocks (49-18) are the third team in College World Series history to make it to three straight championship games after its 3-2 victory over Arkansas on Friday night at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Junior Matt Price has a College World Series record five wins notching the victory on Friday night
Senior Adam Matthews, who was 0-for-3 in the game, worked a six-pitch, bases loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning to bring home the eventual game-winning run.
Arkansas relievers had not allowed an earned run in 26 innings pitched prior to Matthews’ walk but one was enough for South Carolina, which will face Arizona in the national championship series beginning on Monday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
“Honestly, I better do something or I’ll never be able to live in Columbia again,” Matthews, who was 3-for-17 at the College World Series, said of what he was thinking going into the at-bat. “I left a small village of guys on base since we’ve been out here in Omaha.”
South Carolina faced a tough challenge having to win three games in two days but due to the strength of its pitching staff, they’re back in the title series again.
“Obviously that game could have gone either way,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “That was one of those typical SEC battles on this stage. Both teams had opportunities to win.”
After plating two early runs against South Carolina starter Colby Holmes, the Razorbacks (46-22) were only able to muster three hits over the final six innings worth of work.
“It was just one of those games,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “It could have gone either way. We had runners on. Could have driven a run in early. We knew it was going to be tight and it didn’t surprise me it ended up being a one-run game.”
Both teams came out firing in the first inning but only the Razorbacks could scratch across a run. Shortstop Tim Carver led off the game with an infield single and was bunted to second base. Three-hole hitter Matt Reynolds served a two-strike single to left field to bring home Carver without a throw. Reynolds made it to second base with just one out, but Holmes wiggled out of the inning without allowing him to score.
South Carolina looked poised to answer right back in the bottom half of the inning loading the bases with a single and two walks. Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale was able to coax a ground ball off the bat of Matthews and his infield turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and the threat.
After Holmes worked a clean second inning, he was back in trouble in the third hitting the leadoff batter and then allowing a double to right center that hit off the tip of Evan Marzilli’s glove. While it was a play that Marzilli has made look routine all year, it was rightfully ruled a hit and was a difficult play.
Holmes gave way after the double to junior Tyler Webb, who shut down the Razorbacks in a 5.1-inning relief effort on Wednesday. One run came in on a sacrifice fly by Reynolds but it could have been more. Matthews made a nice sliding catch along the right field line, which saved a double. Jake Wise came in to score on the play, but Webb got out of the inning without any further damage.
“I just came into the game with a couple of runners on and tried to play damage control there,” Webb said. “Once we got out of that, with the great catch by Adam and everything, I just tried to pound the strike zone and get to Matt.”
South Carolina wasn’t able to muster much against Baxendale again until the fifth inning. Freshman Tanner English singled to begin the frame and give the Gamecocks their first leadoff man on of the game. Baxendale, after getting freshman Grayson Greiner to pop out on the infield, issued three straight walks.
Walker’s bases loaded walk tied the game at two apiece and sent Baxendale to an early seat in the Arkansas dugout. The tie score got Holmes, who allowed two runs on three hits in two innings, off the hook for the loss.
Again, the game was still in check because of the work that Webb did in relief. The junior exited after four innings allowing two hits and two walks. He struck out three in his 42-pitch outing.
“If you look at the numbers, he’s been good for us the entire year,” Tanner said of Webb. “He’s been outstanding for us, no doubt about it.”
With the score tied, Tanner called upon Price, who worked a perfect seventh inning and was in line for the victory after the Gamecocks were able to walk across home plate in the seventh.
Matthews battled Arkansas reliever Colby Suggs, who was 7-0 on the season with an ERA of just over 1.00, to a six-pitch walk. The bases were loaded as Matthews registered his first RBI of the College World Series.
“You have to continue to go out there and try to put some quality at-bats together,” Matthews said. “He threw me some good pitches that I watched and he threw me a good slider there at the end that I held off of. Fortunately, I walked.”
That run broke a streak of 26 straight innings pitched by the Arkansas bullpen without allowing an earned run. It was also the ninth walk of the game by the Razorbacks’ pitching staff, which had allowed only eight walks total in its first three College World Series games.
“I would love to but I can’t,” Van Horn said, when asked to comment about the home plate umpire’s strike zone.
Price now has five victories in the College World Series, which is a record.
“Matt’s a great pitcher and I think the whole country has seen what he’s capable of doing in big-time situations and the big stage, especially here in Omaha,” Matthews said. “He continues to go out there and pitch his game. He’s done a great job of keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to win.”
Price has 12 appearances in the CWS, which ranks second all-time, and has allowed just one run in 24.2 innings on the mound.
The pitching staff has allowed four runs or fewer in every game this postseason. The last time a team made it to the CWS and completed its showing without allowing more than four runs a game was Miami in 1982.
South Carolina and Arizona will play a three game series for the national championship beginning on Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. Both teams will have a press conference at Noon EDT on Saturday and it will be shown live on ESPNU. The Gamecocks will be the visitors in Game 1 of the championship series. They’ll be the home team in games two and three, if necessary.
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