College World Series 2012: South Carolina Faces Arkansas in Play-In Game for Championship Series

After the Gamecocks lost 2-1 to Arkansas on Monday, things looked bleak for the Gamecocks. Things looked even worse when Wednesday's elimination game was rained out, meaning that Carolina would have to play two games in one day to get a crack at making it to the championship series. As unlikely as it seems, though, the Gamecocks did just that, largely due to two epic performances by the Carolina pitching staff. Against Kent St., Michael Roth did exactly what he needed to do, pitching a complete game against the Golden Flashes and thus saving Carolina's bullpen for Arkansas. In the night game against the Hogs, Jordan Montgomery did just as well, pitching eight innings of scoreless baseball before Matt Price came in for a relatively quick save. Roth and Montgomery combined for an unbelievable 17 innings pitched, one run, five hits, and one walk. Now, it's win-or-go-home for both Carolina and Arkansas, with the winner going on to play the Arizona Wildcats for the national championship.

Carolina will be going with Colby Holmes tonight. Holmes started Monday's loss to Arkansas, and he struggled in that game, giving up two runs in 3.2 innings and allowing four leadoff batters to reach. In a CWS in which Carolina has allowed four runs or fewer in all eight of its games for a 1.68 ERA, Holmes's performance is one of the few blemishes on what has been impressive pitching work by the Gamecocks. It wasn't a horrible outing, but Holmes can do better, as he's shown throughout the year. The good news is that he has generally bounced back from shaky performances. Hopefully that's exactly what will happen this evening.

If Holmes struggles, the good news is that Roth and Montgomery have given Carolina a very fresh bullpen. Tyler Webb, like Holmes, hasn't pitched since Monday and would likely be the first out. Price pitched yesterday, but it was a short outing and he will pitch if needed. Others like Evan Beal and Forrest Koumas are also available if needed, although one would think that we probably won't see either unless Arkansas is hitting the pants off the ball.

Arkansas will go with D.J. Baxendale tonight. Some have said that the Hogs should give the ball back to Ryne Stadnek, who dominated Carolina on Monday, but Baxendale is also a very strong pitcher. After struggling in a Super Regional start against Baylor, Baxendale shut down Kent St. in the Hogs' CWS opener. After the game, Baxendale expressed confidence in his play, stating,

"Against Baylor, I really felt like I let the team down," Baxendale said. "To come out here at this stage and be able to get us a victory in Game 1, it was huge for not only my confidence but I think for the team’s as well. We know any time you can win the first game, it just keeps building off that."

One can see why Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn would want to go with Baxendale here. Baxendale is a dangerous pitcher riding the wave of a strong performance. Arkansas will also enjoy a fairly fresh pitching staff in this game, as it had a couple of days off before last night's game. It should be noted that Carolina did get to Baxendale in the regular season.

As all of this suggests, both of these two teams have mostly relied on their pitching over the course of the year, and that's continued to be true in the CWS (although Arkansas did score several runs in its opener against KSU, as did Carolina against Florida). It may be the case that one or both teams is due for a strong pitching performance. However, it's more likely that we're in for more tight, low-scoring baseball tonight. Should be exciting.

However things turn out, you have to think that Carolina has already exceeded expectations for this year. To lose so much ammunition from last year's championship team and to make it within a game of the championship series says volumes about the level to which Ray Tanner has brought this program. We're truly one of college baseball's elites. That said, something tells me that this team isn't going to rest on its considerable laurels and is ready to defend its belt. Go 'Cocks!

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