If you blinked you might've missed it. In just 18 short innings South Carolina (50-14, 22-8 SEC) won a best-of-three series against the UConn Huskies (45-20-1, 22-5 BE) to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. The Gamecocks will be looking to defend their 2010 National Championship and become the first team to win the CWS back-to-back since Oregon State did it in 2006-07. The Gamecocks have now won 19 straight home NCAA tournament games and have not lost at home in the post season since 2002.
Connecticut led for just three innings between the two games, and they did it on just 3 runs. Game 1 began the way most Michael Roth (13-3, 1.02 ERA) starts begin, with shenanigans in the first inning. After recording two quick outs George Springer singled on a 3-2 count and advanced to 2nd on a throwing error by Marzilli. Springer, you'll remember, was the #11 overall pick in the MLB draft last week. After another single brought the runner home Roth induced a fly ball to end the inning. The Gamecocks, and Roth in particular, have endured unusual first innings all season, and Saturday was no exception. Roth would go on to pitch 8.1 innings while nearly having his second complete game of the season. He allowed 1 run (unearned) on 6 hits and 3 basses on ball. He struck out only 2, and did not record his first strike out until the 8th inning. John Taylor ended the game by inducing two straight ground outs to second base. The Gamecocks took game one 5-1.
The Connecticut ace,(11-5,1.93 ERA), began the game in commanding fashion by striking out three straight Gamecocks. For the first two or three innings he was regularly touching 96 on the radar gun. By the third inning, though, Barnes visibly tired. Gamecock hitters were able to capitalize on his mistakes and enjoyed a 5-1 lead by the 6th inning. Barnes, himself a first-round pick, lasted 4.1 innings, allowed 5 runs on 8 hits, walked 2, and struck out 6. Gamecocks Evan Marzilli, Scott Wingo, and Steven Neff each had two hits on the night.
Game two proved to be much tighter. The Huskies pulled ahead with a 2-run lead in the second inning after stringing together 4 singles. Carolina would take a 3-2 lead in the 8th inning before exploding for 5 runs in the top of the 9th.(18 SV, 2.16 ERA) closed out the 9th with some customary drama, but USC advanced to the College World Series for the second straight year. The Gamecocks won 8-2. Carolina starter Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.78 ERA) lasted just 4.1 innings but worked around some tough situations without allowing too much damage. The sophomore from Conway gave up 5 hits and struck out 2 before Tanner called in the Mata-Webb-Taylor-Price combination to complete the game.
The big story from game two - other than advancing to the CWS - was USC's offensive explosion in the 9th inning. Prior to Sunday night the Gamecocks had scored a total 12 runs in 9th innings the entire season. The 'Cocks loaded the bases twice in the 9th on Sunday and benefited from a clutch hit by Peter Mooney to capitalize on the opportunity. Also of note was Christian Walker's solo home run in the 8th inning, his first in more than a month. In all, five Gamecocks recorded multiple hits on the night.
For all their stolen bases during the season, UConn did not attempt a single steal in either game. UConn's George Springer came into this series hitting .350 and slugging .624. He leaves Columbia hitting .343 and slugging .608. He had just 1 hit between the two games. Hats off to the entire South Carolina pitching staff for keeping a potent UConn Husky lineup in check.
Count me among those not sad to see the Huskies go. I imagine Carolina Stadium felt pretty hostile to a team used to playing in front of 150 fans, but UConn's antics rubbed me the wrong way. First baseman Mike Nemeth got into it with Adrian Morales at one point during game two, and I'm pretty sure I saw their shortstop kick dirt onafter Williams was thrown out stealing second. Neither of which are great slights, but I guess I just didn't like the cut of their jib. In any case, South Carolina improved to 3-0 all-time versus the Huskies and won't have to worry about them again for a while.
The Gamecocks will now travel to Omaha where they will face the Texas A&M Aggies in their opening game at TD Ameritrade stadium. The game is slated to begin at 7:00pm on Sunday, June 19. California and UVA round out the Gamecocks' bracket while UNC, Vanderbilt, Texas, and Florida will battle it out on the other side. We'll have more College World Series coverage all this week, but for now, I only have one thing to say: