OMAHA, Neb. -- There was never any doubt South Carolina left-handed pitcher Michael Roth wanted the ball against Kent State.
The only question: How long, exactly, could he go?
The Gamecocks and Flashes were supposed to play their elimination game Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park before rain storms moved in, and play was halted for the evening. At least last night, the Gamecocks were slated to start freshman left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery.
The rain obviously changed things. With another day of rest, the Gamecocks immediately pondered the idea of bringing back Roth, who threw 6 1/3 innings and 98 pitches against Florida this past Saturday.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner and Roth met Wednesday night at the hotel. The answer was crystal clear: Roth was ready to pitch in his ninth College World Series game, and with the Gamecocks' season on the line.
"I thought they really wanted to win [by bringing Roth back]," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "You could argue that Michael Roth is the best pitcher in the country. Roth was campaigning to pitch last night, and after the game was cancelled, Roth went and told Tanner you can't hold me out now. He wanted the ball and he wanted to be on the mound."
Stricklin admitted he often enjoyed watching Roth against other teams on television, but against his own team, it was a different story. Roth added to his already sterling CWS legacy with a masterful performance in a 4-1 win over the Flashes.
"Roth was very, very special today. I said [to Roth] we need you to stay out there a long time, so he picked a good time to give us a complete game," Tanner said. "It was a tremendous outing by Roth, and now have a chance to play again."
Roth, who allowed three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, in his first start in this year's CWS against Florida, showed strong command from the start against the Flashes. Roth went 1-2-3 in the first inning. And Kent State made a little run in the second inning with a pair of singles, one an RBI single. However, the lefty hunkered down and got out of the jam with a 6-4-3 double play.
"He's just a strike-throwing machine out there, and he throws from two different arm angles, a lot like our pitcher in David Starn," Stricklin said. "He has so much experience, so once we scored, it's almost like we made him made and he just said that's not happening anymore. He had one three-ball count the rest of the way that I can remember."
Stricklin was right, Roth was fantastic the rest of the way. Roth didn't allow a hit after the second inning and retired 22-straight batters to finish the contest. He struck out eight batters (tied for second-most in a game this season) and allowed just one run on two hits. Roth had allowed two hits or less in one previous start this season, a late February start against Elon. Roth threw 106 pitches against the Flashes, 70 for strikes.
"Michael is very humble. Since he became a pitcher, he straps it on for you. Even if it's not what he thinks is the best effort for him, we feel good about having him out there," Tanner said. "This was probably the most critical game because he was good, and he gave us nine innings, which gave our bullpen a chance."
With the win, there's still a chance Roth pitches against in this College World Series. But to get to that point, the Gamecocks must defeat the sizzling Arkansas Razorbacks twice to get there.
No matter what happens, though, Roth's amazing legacy is cemented into CWS history. As a sophomore in 2010, the left-hander was a situational reliever -- a good one, albeit -- who was forced to start against Clemson in an elimination game here in Omaha. In that contest, he allowed just one run on three hits in a complete game performance. He went on to help the Gamecocks win the national title with a stellar start against UCLA in the title series.
In 2011, Roth threw 22 innings in Omaha with seven-plus innings thrown in starts against Texas A&M, Virginia and Florida. Then, this season, he started against Florida and ironically enough, threw his second complete game of his career today against Kent State.
As a whole, this was Roth's seventh start in the CWS, tying former Miami pitcher and current assistant coach J.D. Arteaga. Additionally, his 53 2/3 innings pitched in Omaha surpassed Steve Arlin (Ohio State) and Greg Swindell (Texas), while his 1.34 ERA in the CWS ranks sixth all-time.
South Carolina needed a veteran-like performance from Roth to keeps its hopes for a third-straight national title alive and well.
Roth, as he has done so many times, requested the ball. And as usual, he delivered.
"That's why he's an All-American," Stricklin said. "Three years ago, he was on the backside of the bullpen, now he's one of the biggest superstars in our game, and he throws 85 mph. That's college baseball."
GAME IN REVIEW
PLAYER OF THE GAME: LHP Michael Roth, South Carolina -- After getting rained out on Wednesday with Jordan Montgomery expected to start, the Gamecocks took the extra day as an opportunity to start Roth against Kent State. Roth couldn't have been better against the Flashes. He allowed just one run on two hits in a complete game performance. He also struck out eight and walked none, while throwing 106 total pitches, 70 for strikes.
UNSUNG HERO: 3B LB Dantzler, South Carolina -- It essentially was the Michael Roth show for the Gamecocks, but Dantzler came up big in the third inning with a two-run home run that extended South Carolina's lead over Kent State to 4-1. Dantzler's big blast allowed Roth to get into a serious groove, setting the tone for the afternoon.
GAME WAS OVER WHEN: Already up 2-1 in the third inning with starting pitcher Michael Roth on cruise control, the Gamecocks added a pair of insurance runs when third baseman LB Dantzler uncorked a big-time two-run homer over the bullpen in right field. The Gamecocks went on cruise control, up 4-1 with Roth on the mound. South Carolina never looked back.
WHAT'S NEXT: With the win over the Flashes, South Carolina keeps its hopes of winning three-straight national titles alive. The Gamecocks will start left-hander Jordan Montgomery in the nightcap against Arkansas. The Gamecocks must be the Hogs twice to advance to the CWS Championship Series. Meanwhile, Kent State's season comes to a close with a fabulous 47-20 overall record. It was a good season for the Flashes, who attended Omaha for the first time, and won the program's first CWS contest.