OMAHA, Neb. - Two games, two dominating performances on the mound. Freshman Jordan Montgomery pitched South Carolina to a 2-0 victory over Arkansas on Thursday. One more win will put the Gamecocks (48-18) back in the national championship series.
Mere hours after Michael Roth pitched a gem against Kent State to keep South Carolina alive in the College World Series, Montgomery went out and nearly replicated his senior teammate.
“Jordan followed up what Michael did early today and he was outstanding,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said, “He’s’ had some good games early this year but this one was outstanding. Jordan was very, very special on the mound.”
Montgomery tossed eight shutout innings allowing only three hits and a walk. Scratched from the opener of the day against Kent State, the southpaw struck out six and only threw 89 pitches to move to 6-1 on the season.
“We couldn’t have spelled it out or mapped it out any better,” pitching coach Jerry Meyers said. “Even pitch count wise, we were able to get deep in both games. Montgomery had a chance to go for a complete game, but (Matt) Price was hot. He walked the leadoff guy in the eighth and got away with it, so it was probably time to make that move.”
The Gamecocks entered the day needing three wins in 33 hours to advance to the national championship series against Arizona. Now, after two masterful pitching performances, they’re just one win away from defending their national championships.
“I mean, we have a shot to play for the national championship if we win that game,” Arkansas centerfielder Matt Vinson said. “I felt like our team came out a little bit flat and we’ll come out a lot more excited tomorrow and play with a lot of energy.”
With the two victories, South Carolina became the first team since 1952 to win two games on the same day in the College World Series. South Carolina pitchers faced three hitters over the minimum combined in the two games.
South Carolina jumped on Arkansas starting pitcher Randall Fant early pushing two runs across in the second inning. Sophomore Erik Payne and freshman Tanner English knocked back-to-back doubles to open the frame and, with one down, junior Chase Vergason continued his hot-hitting postseason sending an RBI single to centerfield.
Vergason is 9-for-24 in the NCAA Tournament with seven RBIs in eight games. He had just five RBIs in 43 games during the regular season.
The string of hits was enough to send Fant to an early seat in the dugout as Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn called down to his bullpen after just four outs. It was Fant’s shortest outing since tossing just one inning against Mississippi State on March 25.
Montgomery faced little trouble through the first four innings of work. A streak of 12 straight Razorbacks retired ended in the fifth inning when the southpaw beaned Bigham, who tried to reach third base on a single to left field. Bigham, however, was cut down at third base for the final out of the inning.
“LB made a good scoop over there,” English said. “When I got back to the dugout, I found out we had the play on to go to second the whole way on. That goodness he tagged him out because I probably would have been on the bench the rest of the game if he hadn’t.”
Razorbacks reliever Brandon Moore, a sinkerballer by trade, entered and quieted the South Carolina bats. The Gamecocks could only muster two hits off of the right-hander, who went 5.2 innings before departing in the eighth inning.
“Brandon did a great job of keeping us in the ball game,” Van Horn said. “He worked his way out of a couple of jams. He did what he’s been doing all year and he gave us a great opportunity to catch up. We just didn’t do it.”
South Carolina threatened in the top of the sixth inning and should have come away with a run. Senior Adam Matthews singled to center but junior LB Dantzler got a bad jump off of second base and had to be held. Dantzler was eventually tagged out at the plate on a ground ball back to the pitchers mound and the Razorbacks got out of the inning from there.
Montgomery issued his first walk of the game to lead off the eighth inning prompting Tanner to visit his freshman on the mound. After a quick chat, Montgomery got Bo Bigham to hit a sharp ground ball towards first. Walker gloved it, stepped on the bag, and threw to Pankake covering second for a 3-6 double play.
“Jordan was just getting ground balls all day and working both sides of the plate,” Walker said. “With the righty up, I knew to expect something.”
Montgomery had a rough outing against Arkansas in the regular season giving up five runs on nine hits. This time around, the difference was his ability to hit his spots.
“He had a three pitch mix going and he was pretty good,” Tanner said, “Comparing him to the other time before against these guys, I felt like his location was better.”
It was the last chance that the Razorbacks would have in the game. Junior Matt Price came in for his 13th save of the season giving up a walk but also had two strikeouts.
The Gamecocks became the first team to allow five hits or less in a two-game span at the CWS since 1964 when Missouri accomplished the feat. The last team to make it to the College World Series without allowing more than four runs in an NCAA Tournament games was Miami in 1982.
South Carolina will face Arkansas on Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT with the winner earning a berth in the national championship series against Arizona. The Gamecocks will be the home team.