COLUMBIA, S.C.—Only the weather was able to slow South Carolina’s march to its second consecutive super regional. The sixth game of the Columbia Regional was suspended overnight after heavy storms moved through the area, but when play resumed, the Gamecocks fended off a Stetson rally before pulling away late, winning 8-2 to finish off a perfect 3-0 run through the weekend.
The Gamecocks were leading 4-1 in the top of the fifth, with the bases loaded and one out and Robert Beary, who hit a grand slam against Stetson on Saturday and would go on to be named the regional MVP, coming to bat. But with bad weather inbound, the decision was made to halt the game.
The storm was violent enough to blow the tarp off part of the infield and knock out the power at Carolina Stadium. With the proceedings halted for the night, Beary would have to wait.
“It was funny because I was kind of wired last night,” Beary said. “So I took a couple Tylenol PMs. Whenever you take some of those drowsy pills, you dream a little, and I actually had a dream that I hit a ball off the rail (over the wall) and they gave me a ground-rule double.”
It didn’t quite play out that way. When Beary finally got his chance at 1 p.m. ET Monday, he fouled out to Stetson catcher Nick Rickles on the second pitch he saw.
“It went the opposite way,” Beary quipped.
Still, that was one of the few things that went wrong this weekend for the Gamecocks, who survived a scare from No. 4 seed Georgia Southern on Friday before posting a pair of quality efforts to beat second-seeded Stetson twice.
The decisive moment in the final game came in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Stetson loaded the bases with one out, trailing 4-2. Though it was only the seventh, the game was on the line. That meant it was time for the Gamecocks to call on one of the country’s best closers, Matt Price.
“We put (Price) in a very difficult situation today,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “You can’t always go three outs or four outs—sometimes the game gets decided 10 outs before the end, and that’s sort of the mentality there.”
Price is no stranger to high-pressure situations, and when entering the game with the bases loaded and the Hatters’ Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters due up, Price wasn’t going to back down. But neither did his opponents, as Robert Crews, Ben Carhart and Nick Rickles turned in successive taxing at-bats, fouling off everything Price could throw at them.
“You’ve just got to keep fighting, keep battling,” Price said. “They were fouling off some good pitches and you don’t want to just leave one down the middle so they can hit it hard somewhere. I was trying to make quality pitches and they just kept fouling them off.”
Price won the battles. A throwing error allowed one run to score, but he came back to get Carhart to hit a shallow fly to right field, not deep enough to score a run, and then induced Rickles, the Hatters’ most dangerous hitter, to ground out to second baseman Scott Wingo. The Hatters’ best chance to tie the game had been dashed, and their hopes of extending the regional to a seventh game followed soon after.
“That seventh inning, they put together so many quality at-bats against Matt and he escaped with only one run being scored in that inning,” Tanner said. “That was the difference in the whole ballgame for me.”
The Gamecocks tacked on four more insurance runs in the top of the ninth, extending their lead to the final margin of 8-2. The Gamecocks will host either Clemson or Connecticut in a super regional next weekend.
When Carhart flew out to right fielder Jake Williams for the final out of the regional, the Gamecocks’ ensuing celebration wasn’t much different than you’d see after a regular-season game. No jumping up and down. No dogpile. This team has done bigger things before, and it aims to do them again.
“It’s OK either way,” Tanner said about whether he liked the subdued celebration. “We’ve got some guys on this team that have won some, and they know that today wasn’t the last game.”
They’re hoping that last game won’t come for a few more weeks.
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