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|GAME AT A
Point: South Carolina was trying to answer Texas A&M’s four-run first and had a run in with one out and runners on second and third. Adrian Morales hit a grounder to second that would have scored a run anyway, but Aggies second baseman Andrew Collazo air-mailed the throw, scoring a second run and allowing Morales to reach second. He wound up scoring the tying run on an infield hit with two outs, and the game remained tied until the ninth.
OMAHA—Texas A&M coach Rob Childress summed it up in his postgame press conference, after his Aggies dropped a 5-4 decision to South Carolina.
“Their bullpen was better than ours,” Childress said.
He’s not the first coach to say that about the Gamecocks, who won a national championship behind a deep bullpen and unflappable closer Matt Price. Sunday night in the fourth game of the 2011 College World Series, South Carolina relied on its bullpen and feasted on that of Texas A&M.
The Gamecocks loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth against two Aggies relievers, and senior second baseman Scott Wingo delivered the game-winner. His fourth hit of the game was crushed off the base of the wall in right field and gave the Gamecocks their 12th straight postseason victory, dating back to last year’s CWS opener.
That 2010 opening loss was the seventh straight Omaha trip that began with a loss for the Gamecocks, so they ended a negative streak and extended the right one.
“Not an ideal situation really, when you’re using your bullpen. You’ve got your closer out there and he doesn’t have the lead,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “But you’re trying to win. And if we had, if he pitches well, we don’t score, we maybe get two or three innings out of him and have another crack at it. It worked out great for us.”
It didn’t work out for A&M (47-21), which plays California in a Tuesday afternoon elimination game. The Aggies went to setup man Kyle Martin to start the ninth, as Childress said he’s more comfortable extending Martin than closer Nick Fleece. But Martin gave up a double to catcher Robert Beary to lead off the inning, and Childress immediately went to Fleece.
Jackie Bradley—starting his first game since late April after left wrist surgery—greeted Fleece with a single, and Evan Marzilli walked to load the bases for Wingo. The lefthanded hitter said he was kicking himself for letting a good pitch to hit go by, but he got another pitch to hit and didn’t miss it, crushing a Fleece offering off the base of the wall for his career-best fourth hit of the night. He has 13 hits in his last five games.
“I think I probably want to be in that (situation),” Wingo said, then paused and continued, “Yeah, definitely. Bases loaded, no outs, I knew I needed to come up big there. Once I got two strikes I just went up there and battled.”
The game wound up as a pitchers’ duel but didn’t start that way, not with the teams combining for eight runs (just two earned) in a sloppy first inning. Gamecocks first baseman Christian Walker booted Tyler Naquin’s grounder to open the game, and the Aggies pounced on Gamecocks lefty Michael Roth for four runs. Left fielder Brandon Wood provided the key blow, a bases-clearing three-run triple to right field.
But the Gamecocks answered as Aggies starter Ross Stripling walked the leadoff hitter, Marzilli. Three hits and a key error helped the Gamecocks put up their own four spot, tying the game.
Roth and Stripling then settled down and put up zeros until the ninth inning. Roth went 7 1/3 innings, yielding just two hits after the first inning and four hits overall. He walked a season-high five but struck out eight. He hasn’t given up an earned run in 37 1/3 innings, dating back to May 13 (against Arkansas), and lowered his ERA to 0.97.
With submarine setup man John Taylor and closer Price finishing up, the Aggies’ last 12 batters went down in order, and they went 2-for-25 as a team after the first inning.
Thanks to Stripling, though, they were still in it in the ninth. The 6-foot-3 junior righthander, a ninth-round pick of the Rockies, showcased solid fastball command and a good changeup to go with a breaking ball that got better as the night progressed. He lasted eight innings, giving up just seven hits and one walk while striking out six. He’s had a tremendous postseason—25 innings, 18 hits, five walks and 24 strikeouts in four NCAA tournament outings. He’s allowed nine runs, just five earned.
“I wanted to come out and throw strikes,” Stripling said. “But then with the leadoff walk, the hit and then a balk, I just wanted to try to settle down as quickly as I could. It was just really fun to pitch out there. I think I just wasn’t quite ready for it, I guess, and then obviously they’re just a good hitting team.”
Both starters settled down, leaving it for the bullpens to settle the game’s outcome. For the Gamecocks, that’s a winning formula.