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|GAME AT A
Point: South Carolina already had taken a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but Jackie Bradley Jr. broke the game open with a three-run homer to left-center field, part of an eight-run second inning. The game was never close after that.
OMAHA—South Carolina coach Ray Tanner reminded reporters before the College World Series began that the Gamecocks are not “the big and sexy team.”
“We’ve been kind of labeled this year as a pitching and defense team,” he said in Friday’s pre-Series press conference.
But facing elimination against top-seeded Arizona State, the Gamecocks won in big and sexy fashion Tuesday afternoon. South Carolina banged out eight hits—highlighted by a three-run homer by Jackie Bradley Jr. and a two-run shot by Adrian Morales—in an eight-run second inning, then cruised to an 11-4 win, knocking the Sun Devils (52-10) out of the College World Series.
“That second inning for us—eight runs, and eight hits is the most we’ve had in one inning the entire season,” Tanner said. “We don’t score runs like that very often. But we had some big, big at-bats in that inning, and it gave us an opportunity against a great club.”
Second baseman and No. 9 hitter Scott Wingo had the first big at-bat for the Gamecocks (49-16) in the crucial second inning against ASU starter Merrill Kelly. And if South Carolina won the game in atypical fashion, it’s appropriate that its offensive explosion was sparked by an unlikely hero in Wingo. His two-run double down the left-field line gave South Carolina a 2-0 lead, and gave Wingo his first multi-RBI game since April 30. Catcher Kyle Enders came around from first to score on the play when left fielder Johnny Ruettiger didn’t play the carom well, as the ball rattled around in the corner.
“Wingo uncharacteristically hit a ball the other way—that drove in a couple of runs,” Tanner said. “Kyle Enders did a great job scoring on that play. He’s not the most fleet of foot, and he got a great read on that ball after Wingo made contact and scored from first. That was a big play for us.”
Three batters later, Bradley broke the game open with that three-run homer to left-center, which Bradley said might have been aided somewhat by the wind. ASU senior outfielder Kole Calhoun said later that the Sun Devils were “shocked and on our heels” during South Carolina’s second-inning onslaught, and they did not even have any action in the bullpen until it was too late. Kelly was still in the game when Morales—who had started the inning with a leadoff single—came to the plate for his second at-bat of the inning.
Morales proceeded to bang a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole, putting an exclamation mark on the eight-run inning and effectively putting the game away.
Arizona State didn’t quit, of course—the resilient Sun Devils have overcome adversity all season, and they played much better over the final five innings than they did over the first three. But after South Carolina tacked on two more runs in the third, ASU faced the impossible task of coming back from a 10-run deficit against flame-throwing righty Sam Dyson, who had good command of his 92-96 mph fastball and his changeup. Staked to a huge lead, Dyson simply pounded the strike zone, finishing with four runs allowed on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings before handing off to closer Matt Price.
Price, a redshirt freshman righthander with a low-90s fastball, prevented the game from getting close again in the eighth, after Arizona State pushed across two runs. The Sun Devils had the bases loaded with one out, but Price struck out Austin Barnes and Drew Maggi to end ASU’s only legitimate chance to get back into the game.
South Carolina’s big, sexy power arms were able to finish the job. There’s nothing atypical about that storyline for the Gamecocks.
“I’ve said many times to our team, we’ll give up some runs but let’s not give up the big inning,” Tanner said. “They tried to make it a big inning a number of times, and we were able to get some pitches or a play to stay out of it. But Arizona State has a tremendous club, and I knew that you were going to have to get 27 hard outs, and that’s what it ended up being.”