The South Carolina Gamecocks (45-17, 18-11 SEC) took two games in three days from the Oklahoma Sooners (42-25, 13-10 Big 12) this weekend on their way to a third straight birth in the College World Series. I'd like to say I was surprised at the performances on exhibition over the weekend, but when a team is 21-0 in the post season dating back to 2010, you begin to expect to see something great every time they take the field. The Gamecocks played well in conditions that were thoroughly challenging at times. Carolina saw contributions large and small from both familiar and unexpected faces in the two-game series.
Saturday's opener pitted USC's Michael Roth against Oklahoma's Jordan John. Roth (7-1, 2.5 ERA) went 7.2 innings while scattering 6 hits without allowing a run. John (8-8, 2.44 ERA) would not see the 3rd inning. Perhaps the best word to describe Roth's performance is "effective." As in, he had an effect on the entire weekend. Even though he allowed nine batters to reach base, Roth never seemed to lose control of the situation. Much of that control had to do with his efficiency against lead-off hitters. Of the eight innings in which Roth took the mound, in only two did he allow the lead-off man to reach base. That went a long way towards creating a frustrating night at the plate for Sooner batters. In fact the only time a Sooner managed to reach third base was in the 5th inning, when a fielding error by Evan Marzilli allowed Max White to squeeze two more bases out of a single. The triple-bagger went for naught, though, as Roth had already recorded the first and second outs earlier in the inning, and the ensuing batter flied out to center field. No Sooner collected more than 1 hit on the night. Granted, Roth's performance owes something to the somewhat liberal strike zone enforced by the home plate umpire Saturday, but where Roth capitalized Oklahoma could not. The Garnet Gallos (patent pending) took an early 3-0 lead in the second that chased the Oklahoma starter from the game. Dillion Overton performed admirably in relief for the remainder of the game, but the damage was already done. The 'Cocks didn't even need the 2 extra runs in the 7th. Carolina took the day by a score of 5-0.
Re-cap continued after the jump.
Sunday's match was the second sell-out affair of the weekend, at least initially. USC started Junior Colby Holmes (7-1, 2.88 ERA), who took a no-hitter into the 8th inning during his last start against Manhattan. Holmes picked up where he left off by completing five more innings on Sunday while allowing just 1 hit. OU starter Jonathan Gray was not to be outdone, though. Gray (8-4, 3.16 ERA) pitched 6 scoreless innings while only allowing 3 hits. The pair might have continued on ad infinitum had it not been for the interference of Mother Nature and the incompetence of the NCAA. After five innings of baseball played in a steady drizzle, the NCAA decided to halt play under the pretense of allowing a strong storm cell to pass through. An hour passed where a steady, but playable, drizzle continued. When the call was made to resume play, the rain began more furiously than ever and, after Jonathan Gray was obliged to pitch another half an inning, the game was halted again. You would be both a pessimist and a sage if you had the clairvoyance to predict that not another drop of rain would fall on Carolina Stadium that night. Friends, Twitter is here to report that's exactly what happened.
Play resumed the following day in front of a much sparser crowd with Carolina apparently eager to punch its ticket to Omaha. Connor Bright led off the Carolina 7th with a double, and just like that the 'Cocks had the go-ahead run on second with no outs. Tanner English would reach on a fielder's choice, and the runner would score on a botched throw by the Oklahoma first baseman. After English advanced to third on a Sac. bunt by Chase Vergason and later scored following a wild pitch, Carolina found themselves up 2-0 and never looked back. USC added 3 more runs in the 8th, but it wouldn't need them. USC completed the sweep by a final of 5-1.
The story of the weekend has to be USC's pitching staff. Led by another great outing by senior Michael Roth, the Gamecocks held Oklahoma to just 1 run in 18 innings of work. Not bad versus a team that ranks in the top half of the NCAA in runs scored. Through those 18 inning the Sooners only put their lead-off runner aboard 6 times. Throwing strikes and putting pressure on the OU hitters at the plate continues to be a big reason why this team has had success. The Sooners hit .152 on the weekend compared to a season average of .262. It's an encouaging sign when the team can take a series like this on essentially the strength of just four hurlers -- Roth, Holmes, Webb, and Price.
Also encouraging is the momentum at the plate for the Gamecocks. USC hit .263 as team this weekend -- not a far cry from their season average of .271. Evan Marzilli and Christian Walker had a few clutch hits in there, but most encouraging is the fact that the 7-8-9 spots in the order accounted for a fourth of the team's hits and only about a fourth of the team's strike outs. When the bottom of the order is starting to put balls in play like we saw this weekend, it opens up opportunities for the top of the order to come up big. Chase Vergason was 2-3 with 3 RBIs against the Sooners capped off by a pair of well-executed Sac. bunts in game 2. And lest we forget Dante Rosenberg's skills behind home plate. Even though Rosenberg was 0-7, he threw out a runner in each game -- once at third. It would seem the picture is once again coming into focus for the Gamecocks.
This is the kind of series that gives you confidence going into Omaha to face arguably the best team in the country in the Florida Gators. USC made a statement to the nation, and even to itself, that the road to a national title still travels through Columbia, SC. They did it in front of back-to-back sell out crowds on the heels of back-to-back championships, and now the Gamecocks are going back to the only place that's ever mattered in college baseball.