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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: One of the heroes of Saturday’s win against Florida, sophomore DH Erik Payne, led off the South Carolina second with a double to left field. The next batter, Tanner English, drove him home with a hustle double to left, then scored two batters later on Chase Vergason’s RBI single. That was all the scoring the Gamecocks would do, and it was all the scoring they would need.
The Hero: Freshman lefthander Jordan Montgomery matched the longest outing of his career, working eight innings to pick up the win. He allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out six, and he handed off to closer Matt Price after throwing just 89 pitches through those eight scoreless frames.
You Might Have Missed: Arkansas’ deep bullpen kept it in the game after starter Randall Fant was knocked out in South Carolina’s two-run second. Sinkerballer Brandon Moore ended that Gamecock rally with a 4-6-3 double play on his first pitch, then went on to work five scoreless innings. Trent Daniel and Nolan Sanburn followed with two more combined innings of scoreless relief. Arkansas’ bullpen has now thrown 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. “Brandon did a great job of keeping us in the ballgame,” Hogs coach Dave Van Horn said. “He did what he’s been doing all year, and that’s coming in and throwing strikes, throwing the fastball that sinks a little bit, a little slider, getting ground balls. He gave us a great opportunity to catch up. We just didn’t do it.”
OMAHA—South Carolina knew exactly what it had when it recruited Jordan Montgomery.
“He’s a polished lefthander, any pitch in any count, three pitches—a little like Michael Roth,” Gamecocks recruiting coordinator Chad Holbrook said back in September. “He throws strikes, fields his position, has good command. He’s 84-86, pitches in, tries to get hitters out the same way as Michael.”
A big reason South Carolina has won back-to-back national titles and is three wins away from capturing a third is that Holbrook and the rest of the South Carolina staff can really evaluate talent. Key players depart, and the Gamecocks haven’t missed a beat—they just plug in a new batch of winning players.
Montgomery is a big part of the next wave of South Carolina stars. The freshman lefthander lived up to his Rothian billing Thursday night against Arkansas, turning in a Rothian performance to lead the Gamecocks to a 2-0 win, forcing a rematch Friday for the right to face Arizona in the CWS Finals.
Making his first start since June 3 against Clemson in regionals, Montgomery delivered eight innings of three-hit shutout ball, walking just one while striking out six. The Gamecocks needed to win twice Thursday to keep their season alive, and they pulled it off thanks to their pair of lefthanders. In the two games, South Carolina pitchers faced just three batters over the minimum.
“For the second time today, we got an absolutely wonderful game out of our lefties,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “Jordan followed up what Michael did earlier today—(he) was outstanding. He’s had some good games for us this year, and this was the best one.”
It was a stark contrast from Montgomery’s last start against Arkansas on May 5, when he allowed five runs on nine hits over 5 1/3.
“From my vantage point, it was all about location,” Tanner said. “He’s got a really good changeup. People respect that, but he started sticking fastballs on the inner half, then he got a couple guys looking at the breaking ball. He had a three-pitch mix going, and all his stuff was pretty good tonight. So comparing him to the time before against these guys, I just felt like his location was better.”
Like Roth, Montgomery arrived in Columbia as a predominantly fastball-changeup pitcher, with a breaking ball that was still developing. Like Roth, his breaking ball has made strides, but his changeup is his most lethal weapon.
“He kept us off balance with the changeup away and that breaking ball a bit,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “When we thought about getting over the plate with that changeup, he just did a great job busting us in.”
Fellow freshmen Joey Pankake, Grayson Greiner and Tanner English made big plays on defense to help Montgomery shut down whatever meager threats Arkansas managed. Five of Montgomery’s nine groundball outs were recorded by Pankake at shortstop, starting with a dazzling play on Tim Carver’s chopper up the middle to start the Arkansas first, capped by a perfect throw on the run. Pankake also made a nice catch on a Jake Wise line drive in the sixth, then rifled a throw to first base to double off Matt Vinson. And in the eighth, first baseman Christian Walker started a nifty 3-6 double play with a backhanded stop down the line, then threw to second base, where Pankake deftly tagged out Brian Anderson.
Greiner handled Montgomery adroitly behind the plate, but his biggest contribution came in the first inning, when he gunned down Joe Serrano easily at second base on a failed hit-and-run attempt.
“Definitely pitching in front of 20,000 people, maybe plus, had me a little nervous in the bullpen,” Montgomery said. “But after that first inning I guess I settled in, and the way the team was playing behind me, I was just kind of staying on cruise control.”
The only time the Razorbacks managed to put a runner in scoring position, English ended the threat. Bo Bigham tried to go from first to third on a single to left field by Derrick Bleeker, but English threw him out at third base to end the inning.
“We’ve been able to get out of some situations because of our defense and pitchers throwing well,” Tanner said. “We don’t score a lot of runs, so we need that.”
It’s a familiar recipe for the two-time defending national champs. Montgomery’s Omaha star turn felt familiar, too. Roth burst onto the national scene in similar fashion in a CWS elimination game against Clemson two years ago, allowing just three hits in a complete-game victory.
“I’ve got to give Jordan a ton of credit,” Tanner said. He’s a young guy, he listens to (pitching coach Jerry) Meyers. He’s got a great pitching coach, and he’s watched Michael Roth. So he continues to develop, and hopefully what you saw tonight will be a sign of things to come in the next few years.”