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Thursday, June 21, 2012

CWS: Montgomery makes his mark

Kendall Rogers        
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OMAHA, Neb. -- South Carolina freshman left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery knew he had a College World Series legend to live up to after Michael Roth pitched a beautiful complete game against Kent State to begin Thursday.

Some freshmen in Montgomery's situation against Arkansas -- win or go home -- would crater under the pressure. And rightfully so, it's not easy to go on a stage like this -- in front of 23,593 fans -- in your first appearance since NCAA Regional play and put together an impressive start.

Fortunately for the Gamecocks, Montgomery was anything but a typical freshman against the Razorbacks, as he pitched arguably his most dominant game of the season in a 2-0 win over Arkansas to force a second bracket championship.

"Jordan followed up what Michael did earlier today, and he's had some good games for us this year, but this was the best one," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "Jordan was very, very special on the mound, and we scratched together a couple of runs. That held up today."

Earlier in the day, Montgomery sat in the South Carolina dugout as Michael Roth twirled a gem against Kent State, allowing just one run on two hits in a complete game performance. As he has done throughout the season, he analyzed Roth's approach to each hitter on a stage like this.

Having observed Roth and other South Carolina pitchers throughout the week, Montgomery was ready to avenge an earlier season performance against the Hogs. Back in early May in a road trip to Fayetteville, Ark., Montgomery had a start to forget against these same Razorbacks.

In that start, he struck out just two batters and allowed five runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings of work.

In this start, he was confidence, crisp, and excellent. He had a relatively easy first inning to get into a groove before he received a boost in the second inning when the Gamecocks gave him a cushion by scoring two runs -- one on a Tanner English RBI double and the other on a Chase Vergason RBI single.

Montgomery, this go-round, settled in and retired 12-straight batters from the end of the first inning until the fifth inning, the Gamecocks defense doing a great job of never allowing him to feel threatened.

"It's all about location. He was able to stick some fastballs in there, and he had a really good changeup. People respect his changeup," Tanner said. "He started sticking some fastballs there on the inner half and he got a couple of guys looking with the breaking ball. He had a three-pitch mix and I felt like his location was better [as compared to his last start against Arkansas]."

Montgomery finished the game striking out six batters and allowing just three hits in eight shutout innings. He also threw 89 pitches, 56 of them for strikes.

"I just thought Montgomery pitched a great ballgame. He had his changeup away and the breaking ball a little bit, while busting in that fastball," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He did a great job, and they made some really nice plays on us. I give credit to him, he pitched really well and got the ball inside. We hit some balls on the end of the bat with that changeup."

Montgomery's performance against the Razorbacks could very well go down in Gamecocks lore as one of the defining moments in the program's College World Series history. Many in attendance compared Montgomery's start to that of Michael  Roth's against Clemson as a sophomore in 2010.

After dropping the opening game of the 2010 CWS to Oklahoma, the Gamecocks started Roth against Clemson in a key elimination game. He proceeded -- despite mostly being a situational reliever -- to give up just one run in a complete game. The Gamecocks, of course, went on to win their first national title that year.

Those crop of performances served as Roth's official welcome to the national stage.

Perhaps the same will be said about Montgomery by the time this CWS ends.

"He was a freshman that seized an opportunity to get some innings, and we were trying to win some series [earlier in the season] ... and we weren't going to do that unless someone stepped up for us on the mound," Tanner said. "He listens to Coach [Jerry] Meyers and he's watched Michael Roth. He continues to develop and hopefully tonight is a sign of things to come the next few years."

Montgomery certainly isn't Michael Roth just yet ... but some would've been fooled on Thursday night.


PLAYER OF THE GAME: LHP Jordan Montgomery, South Carolina -- There have been some starting pitchers in this College World Series who have struggled after having a couple of weeks off. Montgomery wasn't one of them against Arkansas in an elimination game. The freshman left-hander was fabulous, striking out six and allowing just three hits in eight shutout innings. He also threw 89 pitches, 56 of them for strikes.

UNSUNG HERO: 2B Chase Vergason, South Carolina -- The Gamecocks have had several players rise to the occasion in the NCAA postseason. Second baseman Chase Vergason is one of those guys. Vergason entered the CWS as the team's leading hitter in the postseason, and hasn't disappointed here in Omaha. Vergason recorded two hits against the Razorbacks, bringing home the Gamecocks' second run in the second inning with an RBI single. That hit provided a little cushion.

GAME WAS OVER WHEN: With a 2-0 lead over the Razorbacks in the eighth inning, South Carolina starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery seemed to get himself in a jam. He walked the lead hitter, Brian Anderson, to start the frame. Then, he got Bo Bigham to ground into a 3-6 double play, thanks to a fantastic defensive play by first baseman Christian Walker. Derrick Bleeker grounded out to end the eighth and the Gamecocks had all the momentum going into the ninth inning.

WHAT'S NEXT: With the win over the Hogs, the Gamecocks stayed alive in the CWS, but now must beat Arkansas once more to advance to the CWS Championship Series against Arizona. The Gamecocks will start Colby Holmes, Forrest Koumas or Nolan Belcher, while the Hogs will go with right-handed pitcher DJ Baxendale. Baxendale was fabulous in his first start in Omaha, striking out five batters and allowing just one run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings of work against Kent State.

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