OMAHA—If you know a rested pitcher South Carolina can start in Friday night's game against Clemson, please text coach Ray Tanner. He's awake. Probably pacing, his mind racing.
"You play this long, you can be tired in two weeks," said Tanner, whose team was one strike away from elimination from the College World Series on Thursday night before it rallied for a 3-2, 12-inning victory over Oklahoma. "You don't want the season to end. When you're like that, you're not tired."
This is the stage of the CWS where pitching staffs get taxed coming through the losers' bracket, while the winners' bracket teams—in this case Clemson and UCLA—have been on R&R for three or four days. But sometimes teams get a rush of adrenaline, ignore exhaustion and live to pitch another day. In fact, the Gamecocks did it in 2002 when they lost their opening game and still made it all the way to the championship game—after beating Clemson twice in a row in the bracket championship.
"If you're coming off two wins, that gives you a little momentum—if you can handle your pitching, if you have enough pitching to match up a little bit," said Tanner, whose team beat Arizona State and Oklahoma after losing to the Sooners in its opener here. "That evens the field. Certainly, UCLA and Clemson are rested. That's what staying in the winners' bracket will do for you. But I think it's important for us that we've got to match on the mound whoever we send out there. That's the key right now."
Tanner sent righthander Blake Cooper to the mound on three days' rest for the first time this season, and Cooper responded with 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Michael Roth, John Taylor, Matt Price, Ethan Carter and Tyler Webb followed him to the mound. Only Carter allowed a run—a seemingly game-changing homer leading off the 12th inning by Oklahoma's Tyler Ogle.
"Coop gave us a heck of a start," Tanner said. "I felt good about sending him out there for 100 pitches. Roth, Taylor, Price. Price was spectacular. I know Ethan Carter felt bad about the home run, but that's why you have teammates. Webb went in and got his outs, too."
"Our pitching staff has kept us in position the entire season . . . They did it again."
Tanner had considered starting Webb against Oklahoma, but wasn't comfortable throwing him into the elimination-game fire. Not that pitching the 12th inning was any easier.
"Even though we trailed and had to battle back and come back tonight, I can't say enough good things about Coach (Mark) Calvi and the pitching staff. They've been outstanding," Tanner said. "We felt like Tyler Webb would be a good matchup, but Tyler Webb is a true freshman and it's a do-or-die game. I was going to put my best guy out there if he said he felt good enough."
Tanner discussed Cooper's situation with the pitcher and Calvi late Wednesday night before leaving Calvi and Cooper to further discussion and heading back to his hotel room.
"I said, 'You guys make a decision and send me a text—I'm going to sleep,' " said Tanner. "Which I didn't do, but I did get the text and he said, 'Blake's going.' "
Like Sam Dyson two days earlier against Arizona State, Cooper was outstanding.
"I was ready to go," Cooper said. "I wanted the game in the balance. I wanted to go out there today and throw strikes and I was able to do that . . . able to locate breaking balls when I needed to and got big strikeouts when I needed to."
Seemingly a thousand thoughts already were bouncing around in Tanner's head. Rapid fire.
"I'm pretty sure Price is out," said Tanner.
"I don't know who's going to start.
"I'm not trying to be evasive. I don't really have any idea.
"(Steven) Neff is probably a candidate. Maybe Michael Ross. I don't know.
"We'll go back and regroup and try to see who our freshest guys are.
"Carter only faced one batter.
"We've still got some options.
"So we'll go back and make a decision."
Asked how late he would be up considering the possibilities for Friday night's starter, Tanner said: "I'll probably be up for awhile."
Waiting for a text, no doubt.