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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: After Kent State struck first with a run in the top of the second, the Gamecocks seized the momentum right back in the bottom of the frame. Adam Matthews started the rally with a one-out single through the right side; Grayson Greiner and Chase Vergason capped it with back-to-back RBI singles. With Roth dealing, the Gamecocks were in control from that point on; L.B. Dantzler’s two-run homer over the right-field bullpen an inning later essentially put the game out of reach.
The Hero: Who do you think? Michael Roth turned in a Rothian performance—one of the best of his storied career. He allowed just two baserunners—both in the second inning— then retired the final 22 batters of the game to finish off a two-hit, complete-game gem.He struck out eight and did not issue a walk.
You Might Have Missed: Roth needed to be sharp, because Kent State’s Tyler Skulina was solid in defeat. The Gamecocks got two him for two runs in the second and two more in the third, but other than that he kept their offense at bay. He mostly used his power slider to rack up nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings, and he struck out Matthews to strand the bases loaded in the fifth.
OMAHA—Michael Roth was at his very best Thursday against Kent State. That’s a pretty strong statement, considering Roth is the greatest pitching performer in College World Series history.
Roth allowed just two baserunners—a pair of second-inning singles—and then retired the final 22 batters of the game, leading South Carolina to a 4-1 win against Kent State in the morning’s elimination game.
“To me, that’s why college baseball is so special, a guy like Michael Roth—and I think Coach (Ray) Tanner said the same thing—three years ago, he was on the back side of the bullpen, and (now) he’s a superstar,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “He is the biggest superstar our game has. And he throws 85 miles an hour. He just knows how to pitch. He does everything the right way—great student. I’ve got a ton of respect for him. I’ve enjoyed watching him on TV. I did not enjoy watching him today.”
Roth pitched like the superstar that he is. He pounded the strike zone relentlessly, throwing 70 of his 106 pitches for strikes. He also missed bats, racking up eight strikeouts without issuing a walk. After South Carolina scored twice in the second to take the lead, Roth never opened the door an inch for the Golden Flashes.
“He’s a strike-throwing machine, throws from different arm angles—you never know what pitch is coming,” Stricklin said of Roth. “The thing about Michael Roth is he has so much experience. Once we scored, it’s almost like we made him mad (when) we scored that run in the second inning, and that’s not happening anymore . . . He just commanded the game. That’s why he’s an All-American.”
He was a first-team All-American as a junior last year; Roth’s senior season has been somewhat less dominant, though still outstanding. His command hadn’t been as sharp down the stretch as it usually is—he issued four or more walks four times in a five-start stretch from May 4 to June 2. But his command was impeccable Thursday, helping him keep his pitch count down and throw his first complete game of the season.
“It was the best command that I’ve had in a long time,” Roth said. “I didn’t necessarily make any adjustments, per se, because I think everything’s been fine. Maybe it was being on a little shorter rest than I’m used to.”
Roth was pitching on four days’ rest Thursday, and he has dazzled on shorter rest in Omaha before. But this masterpiece was one of the most important in his brilliant career—not just because it helped the Gamecocks stave off elimination, but also because it conserved the bullpen for a game against Arkansas tonight.
“Roth was very, very special today; he has been many, many times,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “Last night I told him, ‘We need you to stay out there for a long time.’ He picked a great time to give us a complete game and gave us a chance to rest in the bullpen.”
The Gamecocks need to beat Arkansas twice to stay alive and prolong Roth’s collegiate career—he would certainly return for the CWS Finals if the Gamecocks make it that far. But if Thursday was the last time Omaha sees Roth, his final performance was worthy of his career.
It’s easy to put that career into perspective: no pitcher has ever accomplished more on college baseball’s grandest stage. The latest updates to his burgeoning catalog of CWS heroics and records:
• Roth made his seventh career start in Omaha, tied with Miami’s J.D. Arteaga (1994-97) for most all-time.
• Three innings into Thursday’s game, Roth broke the record for most career innings thrown in the Series, previously held by Steve Arlin and Greg Swindell (47 innings). Roth has thrown 53 2/3 innings—and counting.
• Roth picked up his fourth career win in Omaha, tying the record held by 10 others. He is the only pitcher in the four-win group with at least one win in three different years. In 11 career NCAA tournament starts, Roth is 8-0 and has lasted at least five innings in each start.
• Roth lowered his career College World Series ERA to 1.34, third-best among pitchers with at least 30 innings in Omaha. And, of course, it is the lowest ERA among pitchers with 50 or more career CWS innings, because Roth stands alone in that category.
• This was Roth’s second career complete game; the other one also came in a CWS elimination game, in 2010 against Clemson.
When a reporter asked Roth on Thursday what one of his records meant to him, Roth gave a typical answer.
“Pretty sweet,” he said. Then he smiled a little closed-mouth smile, sat back in his chair, and shrugged.
He wasn’t being smug, he wasn’t being evasive. He was just being Roth—unflappable, blunt, entertaining Roth.
“It’s been nice to have the opportunity to pitch here for three years,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior said. “I just really don’t take that for granted.”
Hopefully, Omaha hasn’t taken for granted how fortunate it has been to watch Roth over the last three years.