CWS Game Three: Oklahoma 4, South Carolina 3

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Oklahoma reliever Jeremy Erben walked two to load the bases in the eighth inning, and South Carolina’s DH, Brady Thomas, squared up the first pitch he saw, hitting a hard liner to right field. But it was an at ’em ball and Oklahoma’s Cody Reine was right there to make the catch and end the inning, and the Sooners held on.

Michael Rocha isn’t flashy, but in his seventh start of the season, he was outstanding for the Sooners. He gave up two solo homers and just three other hits, and pitched around three walks to work through six solid innings.

Might Have Missed:
In addition to leaving 10 runners on base—six in the final two innings—South Carolina had a runner (Jackie Bradley Jr.) picked off in the first, a caught stealing (Brady Thomas) in the second and hit into a double play in the fifth. Fourteen baserunners other than the home runs, only one scored.

OMAHA—It won’t go down as an instant classic, because there was nothing instant about it, and it wasn’t quite a classic, anyway. But during the two hours, 53 minutes that South Carolina and Oklahoma played baseball on Sunday, fans and media were treated to a crisp, well-played, competitive game—easily the best of the first three contests of the 2010 College World Series.

But just a fraction of the announced crowd of 22,835 was still on hand in soggy Rosenblatt Stadium when Adrian Morales flew out to center field with the bases loaded in the ninth, securing Oklahoma’s 4-3 win. Sooners center fielder Chris Ellison squeezed that final out nine hours, nine minutes after first pitch was scheduled.

Rain and lightning delayed first pitch by four hours, 15 minutes. The Sooners and Gamecocks then breezed through 5 1/2 innings before the game was delayed again, for another two hours, one minute. Play finally resumed again at 9 p.m. Central, with rain falling steadily and lightning flashing repeatedly over the final 3 1/2 innings.

“I realize it’s been a long day at the yard, but despite the length and the conditions, it turned out to be a really good college baseball game,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said.

But the Gamecocks failed to come up with timely hits against Oklahoma’s three veteran pitchers—starter Michael Rocha, setup man Jeremy Erben and closer Ryan Duke. The Gamecocks were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and they left the bases loaded in each of the final two innings, with the tying run on third base in each case.

Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said Duke hadn’t thrown the ball as well lately as he did earlier in the year, so he decided to stick with Erben to start the ninth, after he had already battled through two innings of relief. South Carolina started the frame with back-to-back singles against him, so the Sooners finally called upon Duke to preserve their 4-2 lead.

He struck out pinch-hitter Adam Matthews, then walked two of the next three batters, sandwiched around a foul pop-up. During a four-pitch walk to lefthanded-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr., he missed up and away with four straight fastballs, forcing in a run.

But Golloway did not press the panic button. He did not even make a mound visit. He simply trusted his veteran closer to bounce back and retire the next hitter, cleanup man Adrian Morales.

“We decided just to let it go and trust the guys,” Golloway said. “But to be honest, when we ended up walking in their third run, they needed a hit. They needed a hit to take the lead and tie it, and they still needed the hit. I clearly wasn’t really disappointed, to be honest, with a base on balls. We needed an out, and they needed a hit. But again, I thought we did a good job being tough on the mound and not giving in—that’s usually key.”

Indeed, Duke came right back after Morales with a fastball, which he popped up to Ellison in center for the final out. Golloway has expressed amazement with his team’s poise all year, and it was on display in the ninth Sunday.

“There’s a special ‘it’ factor going on with them, and Duke exemplified that,” Golloway said.

Of course, Duke had a lead to protect because the Sooners stayed loose in the clubhouse during the delay, then carried their confidence onto the field and came up with clutch hits early. Tyler Ogle gave OU a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single in the first. After South Carolina tied it on Christian Walker’s solo homer in the second, Oklahoma responded immediately in the bottom of the frame, as shortstop Caleb Bushyhead turned on a hanging Blake Cooper changeup for a solo homer of his own. Bushyhead delivered another big two-out RBI single in the fourth, and third baseman Garrett Buechele provided what would prove to be a critical insurance run with a solo homer leading off the eighth.

“I think there was some maturity. Our guys kept focusing and didn’t think the game was over even though we were up by one run coming out of the rain delay,” Golloway said. “I kept thinking, ‘It’s Father’s Day, we’re in a great long rain delay, and there’s no place we’d rather be . . .’ You keep thinking how great it is to be here, how hard you fought to get here, and surely you’re not going to let a little rain ruin your day.”

“We just tried to keep our cool, we knew we’d be back out there at some point,” Bushyhead said. “Our club, we really are built on mental toughness, so knowing there’s rain in the area, we just had to stick with it and be tough, and it worked out.”