CWS Game Eight: South Carolina 7, Virginia 1

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Virginia starter Will Roberts got two quick outs in the top of the first, but third baseman Steven Proscia’s error allowed Christian Walker to reach with two outs. And South Carolina pounced. Jackie Bradley—hitting cleanup after batting ninth Sunday in his first game since April 23—doubled to right-center to drive Walker in and ignite the Gamecocks offense, which produced three runs in the frame against the shell-shocked Cavs.

Brady Thomas, who has been relegated to DH duties by a left foot strain during the entire postseason, carried a 5-for-37 slump into Tuesday, including an 0-for-4 day against Texas A&M in South Carolina’s CWS opener. But coach Ray Tanner stuck with him in the No. 6 hole, and he responded with hits in his first three at-bats. He crushed an RBI double off the center-field wall to cap South Carolina’s three-run first, then singled in his next two trips. “I was able to get the double early, and we were able to scratch some more runs across, make some adjustments,” Thomas said. “I quit swinging at balls out of the zone, hit my pitches and be patient.”

Might Have Missed:
If you changed the channel after South Carolina took a 6-0 lead in the fourth, you missed sparkling play after sparkling play by the South Carolina infield. You also missed another heroic effort from South Carolina submariner John Taylor, who snuffed out Virginia’s best chance to get back into the game by inducing a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in the fifth. He did the same thing to kill a Connecticut rally in the second game of the Columbia Super Regional.

OMAHA—South Carolina has been one of college baseball’s very best teams all season long. The Gamecocks lost just one weekend series all season. They won series against both Florida and Vanderbilt when each team was ranked No. 1 in the nation. They won a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and cruised unbeaten through regionals and super regionals.

Imagine how good they would have been if their best player hadn’t been lost to a torn wrist tendon on April 23.

Actually, there’s no need to imagine anymore. First-team preseason All-American Jackie Bradley returned to South Carolina’s outfield in the College World Series, and on Tuesday, the Gamecocks showed just how fearsome they are at full strength.

South Carolina played at an almost impossibly high level in a 7-1 win against No. 1 national seed Virginia, improving the Gamecocks to 2-0 in their CWS bracket and earning them two days off.

“We played extremely well in all fronts in one of the biggest games of the year for us,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “We really can’t play any better than that.”

“Defensively, offensively—we pretty much maxed out in every category that we could,” Bradley said.

Bradley was right in the middle of it. In his first game in nearly two months on Sunday against Texas A&M, Bradley hit ninth in South Carolina’s order—after Tanner agonized until the last minute whether to hit him second. His timing wasn’t great in that game, but he had one hit in four at-bats. On Tuesday, Tanner again hemmed and hawed over how to use Bradley.

“I asked Jackie right before I had to turn it in, where he felt comfortable,” Tanner said. “He said fifth. I said, ‘If you feel comfortable fifth, I’ll move you up one more spot.’ He said OK.”

As usual, Tanner’s touch was gold. After Virginia starter Will Roberts recorded two quick outs in the top of the first inning, Christian Walker reached on an error by third baseman Steven Proscia. Then Bradley knocked him in with a double to right-center, and the Gamecocks (52-14) were off to the races.

“I know Will’s a strike thrower—he actually reminds me of (Florida ace) Hudson Randall,” said Bradley, who finished 2-for-5 with a stolen base. “They can throw any pitch for a strike in any count, so I just wanted to be aggressive. I knew he was going to be around the zone. I got a fastball in, something I could handle, and it kind of got in the gap and skipped a little bit, and I think that kind of ignited everybody and got us fired up.”

Adrian Morales and Brady Thomas followed with an RBI single and an RBI double off the center-field wall to give South Carolina a 3-0 lead in the first. But this was a complete team effort, and by the end of the fourth inning, six different Gamecocks had driven in six South Carolina runs. The exclamation mark came in the fourth, when Jake Williams led off with his school-record-tying sixth triple of the year and Evan Marzilli and Walker followed with RBI doubles—all of them tattooed.

South Carolina starter Colby Holmes cruised into the fifth inning, allowing just a solo homer to John Hicks and tying a career high with seven strikeouts, six of them coming on his lively, well-located fastball. He ran into trouble in the fifth inning, as Virginia loaded the bases with one out, but John Taylor rescued the Gamecocks by inducing a 1-2-3 double play.

The submariner stymied the Cavs for 4 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit, while his defense made highlight reel plays over and over again behind him, en route to the Gamecocks’ 13th-straight postseason victory, which ties an NCAA record.

It was a suffocating, overpowering performance against a team that carried a 55-10 record into the game.

“Their pitchers made big pitches when they needed them to, and their infield defense was tremendous tonight,” UVa. coach Brian O’Connor said. “That’s what it takes at this time of the year. When you’re playing other great clubs, you’ve got to be able to pitch and play great infield defense. And they turned a couple double plays that were pretty special plays.

“South Carolina, really quite frankly, beat us in every phase of the game tonight.”