College : : Story
Friday, June 22, 2012

CWS: Gamecocks aiming for three

Kendall Rogers        
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OMAHA, Neb. -- We've seen this type of script from South Carolina before.

You know, the situation when the Gamecocks have their backs against the wall, and everyone thinks they're down and out. And bam, they fight back and end up playing for a national title, this time advancing to the CWS Championship Series with a 3-2 triumph over Arkansas.

The last 24 hours were a whirlwind for the Gamecocks. They started the College World Series with a win over Florida before losing to Arkansas in their second game here in Omaha, setting up an elimination game against Kent State. That contest, of course, was rained out Wednesday, meaning the Gamecocks had to play two games on Thursday to advance to Friday. They did that with left-handed starting pitchers Michael Roth and Jordan Montgomery coming up big with great performances against Kent State and Arkansas, respectively.

After beating the Razorbacks late Thursday, the momentum seemed to be all in South Carolina's direction. The Gamecocks could taste another national title series berth, while Arkansas -- after seeing the bounces South Carolina got in Thursday's games -- had to be wondering if perhaps once again this was the Gamecocks' year.

The Razorbacks promised after Thursday's game that they'd come out Friday with a vengeance against the Gamecocks. And they were right. Arkansas started the contest with an RBI single from Matt Reynolds in the first inning, before a sacrifice fly in the third inning made it 2-0 in its favor with red-hot right-handed starting pitcher DJ Baxendale on the mound.

To no surprise, though, South Carolina fought back in the fifth inning with an RBI single from leadoff hitter Joey Pankake before a controversial bases-loaded walk to Christian Walker brought in another run to tie the game at 2-2.

The Hogs were forced to lift Baxendale -- who had a career-high five walks -- from the contest, and turn things over to their bullpen.

"I'd love to, but I can't," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said when asked about the sketchy umpiring by Perry Costello. "I knew it was going to be tight, and it didn't surprise me it was a one-run game. I thought my pitchers filled up the zone all night."

With the game tied after five innings, it was the battle of the bullpens the rest of the way. The Hogs relied on Trent Daniel, Colby Suggs and Barrett Astin to get the job done, while the Gamecocks rode the arms of Tyler Webb and Matt Price.

Daniel only recorded one out, while Suggs didn't allow a hit, but was on the mound during the most crucial moment of the game in the seventh inning. With two outs and bases loaded and Gamecocks outfielder Adam Matthews at the plate, Suggs threw what appeared to be a strike for ball four, as called by home plate umpire Perry Costello, allowing the go-ahead run to score, making it 3-2.

The Gamecocks didn't look back.

"That came could've gone either way, it was just a typical SEC battle on this stage," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "Coach Meyers and I were visiting in the wee hours of the morning talking about this game, and we thought to have a chance to win, we needed Holmes, Webb and Price to go two or three innings each. We felt we had to hold them to three or four runs. It kind of happened exactly that way, we were very fortunate."

Given the circumstances surrounding this Gamecocks team, particularly the bullpen, earlier this season, it's quite ironic the bullpen needed to step up to carry them to the title series.

Matt Price began the season as a starting pitcher for the Gamecocks. But after five starts, the last an average start against Kentucky, the Gamecocks felt they had to move the gritty right-hander to the bullpen to have a chance to accomplish their goals.

Tanner struggled with the idea of moving Price to the bullpen, wondering the ramifications of such a swift move. But he finally made the switch in mid-March against Florida, where Price made two appearances against the Gators. From that point on, it was like the Gamecocks were a different club.

"I think so [changed the dynamic]. He did fine as a starter and I thought he could've won seven or eight games, but we were missing that "it" factor," Tanner said. "Matt established himself as good as anyone in the country [at closing games], so we visited. I told Matt we just don't think we can be the team we want to be until he's back in the bullpen. We thought that was the best thing for the team and it paid dividends."

Price couldn't have been better in such a huge role against the Razorbacks. He finished the game with five strikeouts and allowed just one hit in three innings of work. In other words, it was Matt Price being Matt Price.

"Matt is a great pitcher. The whole country has been able to watch what he's capable of on the big stage when he goes out there and pitches his game," South Carolina outfielder Adam Matthews said. "He gives us a chance to win."

Price earned his fifth win -- a CWS record -- against the Hogs.

Much credit for Friday's win over the Hogs also should go to left-handed pitcher Tyler Webb. The junior left-handed pitcher only made one appearance in last year's CWS, against Florida in the national title series, overshadowed by submariner John Taylor. But with Taylor gone this season, he immediately became a key arm.

Webb has been very good this season, but has taken his game to another level here in Omaha. Against the Hogs, he showed good command of his fastball, which Tanner said was up to 94 in the Columbia Super Regional, and has been sitting around 89-91 in the CWS.

He bridged the gap between Holmes and Price in spectacular fashion, striking out three batters (walking two) and allowing two hits in four innings of work. Webb also threw 71 pitches, 42 of them for strikes.

"He's a guy in his career, he's been in a starting role a few times. He seems to thrive coming out of the bullpen," Tanner said. "Whether it's a short stint or four or five innings, he goes at hitters and uses both sides of the plate. His velocity has been better, and his changeup was very good the other night. He's still able to make some pitches, and he's a tall lefty with a downward plane. It's not easy to stay off those pitches, and he's been outstanding for us."

Whether it's with clutch pitching and hits, or fantastic plays in the field, the South Carolina Gamecocks, as they showed Friday night, are essentially going through much of the same script they have the past two seasons on the way to national titles.

Michael Roth and Jordan Montgomery shined on Thursday to even get to this point. Then, after a bad start by Colby Holmes, it just so happens Tyler Webb and Matt Price rose up and were able to finish off the Razorbacks.

No matter what happens in games, these Gamecocks -- again -- just seem to push all the right buttons in all the important situations.

The familiar script calls for a third-straight national title.

It's up to Arizona to put together a different ending.


PLAYER OF THE GAME: RHP Matt Price, South Carolina -- With the game tied 2-2 going to the seventh inning, the Gamecocks turned the game over to stud junior closer Matt Price. Price, as usual, did his thing for Ray Tanner's club. He struck out five batters (no walks) and allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings of work. Price threw 48 pitches, 37 for strikes.

UNSUNG HERO: LHP Tyler Webb, South Carolina -- Gamecocks starting pitcher Colby Holmes didn't put together a good start in a crucial contest. He allowed two runs on three hits in just two innings of work, leaving the Gamecocks in a rather precarious situation. Webb, though, as he has done already in this CWS, stepped up and gave the Gamecocks four strong innings. He struck out three (walked two) and allowed just two hits in four shutout frames. He also threw 71 pitches, 42 strikes.

GAME WAS OVER WHEN: The Gamecocks and Razorbacks entered the seventh inning tied 2-2 with two outstanding bullpens going at it. The Gamecocks grounded out to start the inning before Joey Pankake and Evan Marzilli walked. Christian Walker then flew out for the second out before LB Dantzler singled. That set up a huge at bat for Gamecocks veteran Adam Matthews, who walked to score the go-ahead and winning run. South Carolina didn't look back with Matt Price on the mound.

WHAT'S NEXT: With the win, the Gamecocks have advanced to play for a national title for the third-straight seasons, aiming for a three-peat, only done by one program (USC) once in the history of the College World Series. The Gamecocks will start either Evan Beal (4.02, 47 IP), Forrest Koumas (4.56, 25 2/3 IP) or Nolan Belcher (2.17, 29 IP) in the series opener against red-hot Arizona.

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