Hours after he watched senior left-hander Michael Roth’s two-hitter against Kent State keep South Carolina’s season alive, freshman lefty Jordan Montgomery did his best imitation of the Gamecocks’ undisputed team leader when he got his turn against Arkansas on Thursday night.
Montgomery held the Razorbacks to three singles over eight innings, and the two-time defending national champions won 2-0 to force a rematch Friday night that will decide which team goes to the best-of-three College World Series finals against Arizona.
Article continues below ...
“Definitely watching Roth pitch that first game, I knew I just needed to come out here and put up some zeroes for the team and save the series and save the bullpen for the next game,” Montgomery said.
The Gamecocks (48-18) has staved off elimination twice since Arkansas (48-18) beat them 2-1 on Monday, snapping their record 22-game winning streak in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Ray Tanner couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome after the 4-0 win over Kent State. The only reliever he called on Thursday was closer Matt Price, who worked the ninth inning against Arkansas for his 13th save.
“For the second time today we got an absolute wonderful game out of our lefty,” Tanner said. “Jordan followed up what Michael did earlier today and was outstanding. He’s had some good games for us this year. And this was the best one.”
The Gamecocks’ runs Thursday came in the second inning on Tanner English’s double and Chase Vergason’s single.
Montgomery (6-1) struck out six and walked one in his first outing since June 3.
“Definitely pitching in front of 20,000 people maybe, plus, had me a little nervous in the bullpen,” Montgomery said. “But after that first inning and I guess the way I settled in and the way the team was playing behind me, I was just kind of staying on cruise control and just went.”
South Carolina is the third team in the 63-year history of the CWS to win two full games in the same day. The last to do it was Holy Cross in 1952, when it beat Western Michigan and Penn State en route to the title. Tennessee won two in a day in 1951.
South Carolina pitchers faced 57 batters in Thursday’s two games — three over the minimum.
Roth came up big after Wednesday night’s elimination game against Kent State was postponed because of rain. Tanner decided to start Roth because the rainout gave the staff ace a fourth day of rest.
Montgomery, who had been the scheduled starter on Wednesday, was quite efficient when his turn came up against the Razorbacks. He threw 89 pitches, 52 for strikes, before giving way to Price to start the ninth. Price earned his 13th save.
“He got the ball inside. We hit a lot of balls in the middle of the bat. We weren’t driving the ball,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Montgomery. “And we hit some balls off the end of the bat on his changeup. He just did a tremendous job.”
Three of Arkansas’ four batters to reach base against Montgomery were erased. Joe Serrano was caught stealing in the first, Bo Bigham was thrown out at third in the fifth and Matt Vinson was doubled off first on a line drive to shortstop in the sixth.
Arkansas had handed Montgomery his only loss of the season last month. He was tagged for nine hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings that night.
Three singles, a walk and a hit batsmen were all the Hogs could muster against him Thursday.
“Tomorrow we want to come out and have a shot to play for the national championship,” Hogs center fielder Matt Vinson said. “I felt our team came out a little flat today. We’ll come out with more excitement tomorrow and play with more energy.”
Arkansas’ pitching staff came into the game having allowed just two runs over its previous 32 1-3 innings.
Randall Fant (2-3) lasted only 1 1-3 innings, allowing four hits and getting charged for both runs. Brandon Moore pitched 5 2-3 innings of two-hit relief, but his effort went unrewarded because the Hogs couldn’t crack Montgomery.
Arkansas might have cost itself a run in the sixth when Bigham tried to go from first to third on Derrick Bleeker’s hit to left. English threw him out to end the inning.
South Carolina has allowed four runs or fewer in all eight of its NCAA tournament games this season.
The Gamecocks have allowed four runs or fewer in 18 consecutive CWS games since 2004.
Montgomery, no doubt, played a huge role in keeping that streak intact.
“They needed a man,” he said. “I just stepped up when I needed to.”