South Carolina is headed back to its home away from home. The Gamecocks punched their ticket to the College World Series for the third straight season with a 5-1 win over Oklahoma on Monday afternoon to become one of eight teams competing for the national championship.
South Carolina is headed back to the College World Series for the third time in three seasons after the 5-1 victory over Oklahoma on Monday
While it took a day longer than expected, the Gamecocks (45-17) will have a chance to defend its back-to-back titles.
South Carolina scored its first three of its runs without hitting the ball out of the infield, Chase Vergason came through with a two-RBI double, and Matt Price came in to shut the door on the Sooners (42-25).
“We just battled hard and were able to win,” head coach Ray Tanner said, after winning his 70th NCAA Tournament game as the South Carolina head coach.
Battling hard and being able to win shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. South Carolina has now won 21 straight games in the NCAA Tournament and, in typical Gamecock fashion, they came up with a new way to come out on top.
A pair of bunts from a freshman and a double from a light-hitting afterthought as an RBI producer sent South Carolina back to college baseball’s biggest stage.
It was fitting.
Rain delayed a scoreless tie in Game 2 on Sunday night in what could have been the Super Regional-clinching game. Starting pitchers Colby Holmes and Jonathan Gray both had their game on cruise control.
Gray was dominant, but did give up five base runners - two on hits and three by walks. However, the power-righty also struck out eight Gamecocks in his 85-pitch outing. Holmes was sharp as well allowing only one hit and two walks while throwing 67 pitches. He struck out three.
Junior Matt Price has saved all three of the Gamecocks' CWS trip-clinching victories
While the innings counted, Monday was a new day and it was a scoreless draw. There would be three and one-half innings, plus maybe nine more.
Oklahoma sent out relief specialist Steven Okert and South Carolina jumped on him immediately in the top of the seventh inning. Freshman Connor Bright, who was 0-for-2 with a strikeout prior to the at-bat, doubled off the flame-thrower to begin the inning.
Pinch runner TJ Coston was inserted to add some speed on the bases and came around to score when English’s sacrifice bunt was thrown away by first baseman Evan Mistich, who was trying to get the lead runner.
“I was coming in trying to make an aggressive play and the throw got away from me,” Mistich said. “I should have just ate it and got the out at first.”
That was just the beginning. English moved to second on the wild throw and then to third on a sacrifice bunt. He came home on a wild pitch later in the inning to give the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead. It was a good start to the day for the Gamecocks, which would soon add more off of Okert.
Facing trouble with two on and no one out in the seventh inning, Tanner turned to Price. It was a situation much like ones he’s been in throughout his entire career. He inherited runners and figured out a way to wiggle out of the jam without too much damage.
“It was just a mindset of trying to control the damage,” Price said. “That’s what I did.”
Catcher Dante Rosenberg cut down the lead runner trying to steal third base and, after allowing an RBI single, Price registered a strikeout and a line out to end the inning and enter the eighth with a one-run lead.
Freshman Tanner English was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI
South Carolina tacked on three more runs in the top of the eighth with all of the runs coming with two outs. English pushed a bunt past the pitcher to score senior Adam Matthews. That’s when Vergason stepped to the plate and launched his two-RBI double.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen and you have a way above average runner going down a line,” Tanner said of English’s bunt. “It was a situation I thought if we could execute would give us a run. We were able to execute.”
The double, which was Vergason’s eighth of the season, gave the left-handed hitter 10 RBIs on the season.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch and drive it somewhere,” Vergason said.
At that point, Price had a four-run lead to work with but still had six of his nine outs left to put his team back in Omaha. It was the third time he was looking for a save to get his team to the College World Series and he was going to have to be extended to put his team there.
“We had a chance to win, so I threw my marbles in the ring,” Tanner said. “That’s the way I approached it. If we had lost that game, we had compromised some of our pitching. I rolled the dice in that situation.”
Oklahoma put a runner on base in both the eighth and ninth innings but it was unable to find a way to scratch a run off of Price, who tied Georgia’s Josh Fields for the all-time SEC save record with 41 in a career.
Price allowed two hits and walked one while striking out four in his 49-pitch outing on Monday. A seventh-round draft pick by Baltimore, it was likely Price’s last time on the mound at Carolina Stadium.
When the final out was recorded, the Gamecocks dog piled on Price for the third time in three seasons. They’ll now face a familiar foe, the Florida Gators, on Saturday at 9 p.m. EDT at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
The Gamecocks are back and they’re defending their title.