College World Series 2011: South Carolina Defeats Virginia to Earn Spot in Championship Series

Well, that was exciting. If anyone else can imagine a more dramatic, epic battle between two highly ranked teams than what we saw last night between our South Carolina Gamecocks and the Virginia Cavaliers, I'd like to hear about it. Carolina defeated the 'Hoos 3-2 in 13 innings, with Adam Matthews scoring the winning run in walkoff fashion after UVa reliever Cody Winiarski underthrew the third baseman on an attempted force out. The ball rolled deep into foul territory in left field, and Matthews was able to waltz into home unchallenged.

The somewhat anti-climactic ending, though, which in a way completed the circuit begun when UVa tied the game in the eighth on a Peter Mooney error, belies the fact that this game was a tense, well-played pitchers duel for most of the contest. Starters Danny Hultzen and Michael Roth both pitched well early in the game, although Hultzen, the second overall pick in the MLB draft, had to leave the game in the third--after striking out eight of nine--because he wasn't feeling well.

The real pitching drama heated up late in the game, when closers Matt Price and Branden Kline came into the game. Both used to pitching no more than a couple of innings, Price and Kline would combine for around 200 pitches, leading both teams deep into extra innings. Both would miraculously get out of multiple tight jams. Price was particularly clutch. He loaded the bases three times in extra innings, only to get out of the tight spot each time. The last time was particularly amazing. The bases were loaded with no outs. I honestly expected us to pull Price at this point, as he looked gassed. However, he managed to get a strikeout followed by a double play to get out of the inning unscathed. There may have been more than a bit of luck here. The double play ball was hit hard, but it was hit straight to Scott Wingo, who caught the line drive and caught the runner at second base off the bag.

Despite all the banter before the game about the SEC's superiority to the ACC, I think we should all take a step back and recognize that we just beat an excellent baseball team. UVa looked almost just as good as the SEC's best in this game, and truth be told, we should probably be thankful that Hultzen didn't play very long, because if he had, we might be playing another game tonight. My hat goes off to Virginia, and I congratulate them on a fine season, most of which they spent ranked number one. That's a great accomplishment.

That said, the Gamecocks take home the spoils in this one, and their reward is a rematch with the Florida Gators in the Championship Series. Like Carolina, who now holds the record for most consecutive post-season wins with 14, the Gators have largely plowed through the post-season. Although Mississippi St. gave them a little run for their money in the Super Regionals, the Gators have been very solid throughout. Next week's series will be a matchup of two great teams playing at their best. The Gators will look to avenge a series loss earlier this season in Gainesville.

I have confidence, though, that Carolina will be ready. This team has been there before, and it's playing as cool as a cucumber right now. I like our chances to repeat as national champions. Go 'Cocks!

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