South Carolina rolls past Gators
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Never mind that South Carolina had lost three of its four previous games with SEC rival Florida.
The Gamecocks are back in Omaha, a place they love and know well, and they foiled the Gators here again.
Michael Roth turned in another strong College World Series start, Erik Payne’s bases-loaded triple scored the go-ahead runs and South Carolina began the last leg of its pursuit of a third straight national title with a 7-3 win on Saturday night.
South Carolina (46-17) extended its record NCAA-tournament win streak to 22 games and will try to add to it Monday against Arkansas, another one of its Southeastern Conference brethren.
“I know we’ve had a pretty good run, but it doesn’t feel like that,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “It’s kind of like we’re getting to play baseball, having fun. Our season has been extended. We just try to play hard and play with some awareness and hope some good things happen. We’ve had a little luck along the way.”
There was never any doubt Roth (8-1) would get the ball against the top-seeded Gators. The stalwart, making his eighth CWS appearance in three years, started and won the 2012 national title-clinching game against Florida. The year before he started but got no decision in the championship game against UCLA.
Roth, who had allowed five earned runs in 38 1-3 previous CWS innings, wasn’t as dominating as he’s been known to be at the CWS. But he was good enough.
He left with one out in the seventh after Florida’s first two batters reached in a two-run game. Tyler Webb got the Gamecocks out of trouble, and Matt Price pitched the last two innings for his 12th save of the season and SEC-record 42nd of his career.
“I’d like to be a little better,” Roth said, “but you just have to go out there and grind it out and Florida’s a great hitting team.”
Payne’s triple off Brian Johnson (8-5) highlighted a fifth inning in which the Gamecocks turned a 2-0 deficit into a 5-2 lead over the Gators (47-19).
“There’s a reason why they have such a winning streak postseason,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They had some momentum there in the fifth, and it felt like it just got passed down from guy to guy. Obviously we weren’t able to stop it there in the fifth, and that was probably the difference in the ball game.”
After batting just .219 in losing three of their first four against the Gators this season, the Gamecocks had 12 hits against six pitchers.
The Gamecocks were 0 for their first 9 with runners in scoring position Saturday and they stranded seven through four innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the first.
Evan Marzilli hit his second double of the game leading off the fifth, and Johnson walked Adam Matthews to load the bases with none out.
Payne, the designated hitter who appeared in only one of the Gamecocks’ previous five games, drove a low liner into the right-center gap for the inning’s big hit. LB Dantzler then knocked out Johnson with a double to deep center for a 4-2 lead.
“Every player wants to be up there with the bases loaded,” Payne said. “You’ve got to stay calm and focused on what you want to do.”
Dantzler came home on Chase Vergason’s single up the middle off Greg Larson. The five runs matched the most allowed by Florida in an inning this season.
“We elected to let Brian pitch to Payne,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, Payne had a good at-bat and so did Dantzler. So it was just one of those things. I thought they had really good at-bats that inning, obviously.”
Johnson had beaten the Gamecocks twice this season, allowing a combined four runs and 10 hits over 15 innings. He was charged with all five runs in his four-plus innings Saturday, and the three walks he issued equaled his career high.
The Gators had given Johnson a 2-0 lead in the third. Freshman Tanner English hesitated before giving chase on Preston Tucker’s liner to left. The ball went over English’s head, allowing two runs to score.
Florida wasn’t finished after South Carolina’s big inning. Mike Zunino’s sacrifice fly got Florida to 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth and looked to add more against Roth in the seventh before Webb came in to settle things down after the Gators put runners on second and third.
Price came on to start the eighth. Marzilli made a full-extension diving catch of Pigott’s drive into the left-center gap — the best catch of the CWS so far — to keep the Gators from getting anything started.
“Off the bat I didn’t think I was going to get to it,” Marzilli said. “The ball was hit pretty well. But I kept sprinting as hard as I could. On those you don’t know until the last second whether you’re going to get them or not. I kind of laid it out and it landed in my glove.”
The Gamecocks converted a wild pitch and two errors into a couple insurance runs in the ninth.
Price worked around two singles in the ninth to finish.
Florida will try to stave off elimination Monday against Kent State.
“Obviously it’s going to be tough, but it’s been done before,” Tucker said. “If anyone can do it, we can.”