See also: Box
|GAME AT A
Point: In a game loaded with wasted scoring opportunities, Brady Thomas’ leadoff single in the 13th didn’t seem like such a big deal—we’d been down that road before. But UVa. reliever Cody Winiarski tried twice to get lead runners when the next two hitters bunted, and both times he threw the ball away. Pinch-runner Adam Matthews raced home for the winning run after the second error.
OMAHA—It lacked style and grace, but Friday night’s South Carolina-Virginia showdown more than made up for it with tension and outlandishness.
“Infreakingcredible,” South Carolina associate head coach Chad Holbrook wrote on Twitter after his team’s 3-2 win in 13 innings, sending the defending national champions back to the CWS Finals against Florida.
It was the kind of game that left winners, losers, spectators and everyone else shaking their heads in disbelief, grasping for words to describe what just transpired.
A combined 29 runners left on base? Two teams combining to go 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-21 with two outs? Two closers combining to work 10 2/3 scoreless innings and throw 202 pitches? Virginia loading the bases three times after the ninth inning—once with no outs—and failing to score a single run?
“I felt sick to my stomach around the 10th inning—I don’t know if it’s because I was nervous or I was that hungry,” said Gamecocks starter Michael Roth, who turned in seven innings of one-run ball an eternity ago. “But seriously, I was ready to get out of there, I think half our team was. We were just getting upset—come on, let’s just score one run!
“This was a special game, but really it was a game of a lot of missed opportunities. We missed a ton, they missed a ton. It was a good game, but at the same time, you look back and you’re kind of like, ‘Ehh, it wasn’t such a great game.’ But it was a hard-fought battle. Their guys made pitches when they had to, Matt (Price) made pitches when he had to.”
What was billed as a showdown between first-team All-America lefthanders Roth and Danny Hultzen evolved into an epic duel between closers Price and Branden Kline. Hultzen, who was feeling very under the weather, was spectacular for three innings, striking out the first six batters of the game and eight of the 10 batters he faced. He showed no ill effects on the mound, pumping 94-95 mph heat, but he felt awful, and UVa. coach Brian O’Connor wasn’t taking any chances, so he went to the bullpen to start the fourth.
“The game starts and we’re having to face Hultzen and we’ve got Roth out there—you figure maybe it’s going to be a pretty good battle,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “And we get in the box and it’s strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, and the shadows are coming in. And I’m thinking: Wow. It was really a mismatch.”
But South Carolina jumped on reliever Kyle Crockett for two runs in the fourth on Brady Thomas’ two-run double. Crockett settled in after that, and South Carolina carried just a 2-1 lead into the eighth, when the normally rock-solid Gamecock infielders made two errors, allowing Virginia to tie the game.
That’s when the drama began.
Price got a double play to end the eighth.
The Cavs put two men on with one out in the ninth—and Price escaped with a strikeout and a flyout.
The Cavs loaded the bases with two out in the 10th—and Price escaped with a strikeout.
The Cavs loaded the bases with one out in the 12th—and Price escaped with a 6-4-3 double play.
The Cavs loaded the bases with no outs in the 13th—and Price escaped with a strikeout and a line-drive double play to second.
“He was able to make pitches when he needed to to get some big outs, but he’s been in so many situations in the last two years, I can’t imagine another bullpen guy in the country being in as many tough situations as Matt has been in,” Tanner said. “And I’m not saying he’s comfortable there, but he’s accustomed to having some jams to get out of.”
Like the Cavs, the Gamecocks had runners on base in every frame from the eighth through the 13th. They loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, and Kline escaped with back-to-back strikeouts. They had runners reach scoring position in the 10th and 12th, and Kline continued to make big pitches to get big outs. He allowed seven baserunners but no runs in five innings, getting seven strikeouts, mostly with his sharp 79-81 slider.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said of Kline’s outing. “But it was kind of Kline and Price toe-to-toe, pitching with runners in scoring position a lot, and neither one of them was going to give in, and neither team could catch a break.”
Finally, against reliever Cody Winiarski in the 13th, South Carolina caught two breaks.
After Thomas’ leadoff single, Peter Mooney laid down a bunt back toward the mound, and Winiarski attempted to get the lead runner at second. He had plenty of time, but he made an errant throw into center field, giving the Gamecocks runners at first and second. The next batter, Robert Beary, also bunted, and Winiarski again tried to get the lead runner—and again his throw was errant. Pinch-runner Adam Matthews raced home from third base with the winning run.
“I mean, it’s simple: They wanted to give us an out, and we weren’t able to capitalize on that and just take what they were giving to us,” Winiarski said. “Those are plays we practice every day in practice and just didn’t execute.”
It was an appropriate ending for a game that wasn’t pretty—but was extraordinarily compelling. Although it wasn’t so extraordinary for the Gamecocks, who have won a record 14 consecutive NCAA tournament games and nine consecutive CWS games, one shy of the record. Three of South Carolina’s last four wins in Omaha came in walk-off fashion.
“It’s just the way we do it, I guess,” Roth said. “We like to make things hard. We let them back in the ballgame in the eighth inning with those two errors, but we don’t normally take the easy route. That’s just the way this club is . . . I think we felt like the whole night we were going to win. That’s just kind of the mindset we have.”