Diamond Extra: Bring on Kent State
OMAHA, Neb. - For the first time in two years, South Carolina will play a win-or-go-home game at the College World Series.
Monday's 2-1 loss in which the Gamecocks managed just four hits off Arkansas pitchers Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin set up an elimination game against Kent State at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The winner takes on Arkansas at 9 p.m. on Thursday, needing two wins to advance.
UCLA and Florida State will square off in a Bracket 1 elimination game at 8 p.m. today. The loser joins Stony Brook and Florida on the sideline.
During its 2010 national championship run, USC staved off elimination four times with victories over Arizona State, Oklahoma and Clemson twice to earn the right to face UCLA in the national championship series.
Kent State was one of two Cinderellas in this year's geographically diverse eight-team CWS field. Stony Brook was quickly eliminated with two losses, but the Golden Flashes advanced to face USC with a thrilling 5-4 victory over Florida in the first game on Monday.
Kent State enters Wednesday's clash with a 47-19 record, 6-2 in the NCAA tournament. Like Arkansas, the Flashes won their NCAA Regional (Gary, Ind.) and Super Regional (Eugene, Ore.) on the road to advance to Omaha for the first time in school history.
Kent State has already eliminated two SEC teams in the postseason (Kentucky in the Gary regional; Florida in the CWS), so it will try for the hat trick on Wednesday against the Gamecocks.
"We saw the way the bracket was kind of taking shape when we were in the Super Regionals, and we made the comment that we might be in there with the SEC," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "We feel like we belong here. These guys have all seen us play on TV. We've got a very good ball club."
Kent State has a team batting average of .301 heading into Wednesday's game, with five regulars batting over .300, led by George Roberts (.364) and Jimmy Rider (.363). However, Stricklin described his team as one built around pitching (3.57 team ERA) and defense (.974 fielding percentage; 68 errors in 66 games).
"They're very good. I got a chance to watch them in the Super Regional against Oregon," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "I've known Coach Stricklin for many years. I think his personality is very special. They had a hard-fought game today and they were able to hang on and win."
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America pointed out late Monday that Wednesday's elimination contest marks the first time in 725 days that USC enters a game knowing that its season could end with a loss.
The winner of Wednesday's game earns a spot in college baseball's version of the Final Four.
"There are only six teams left, so everybody's pretty good. You just hope you can have a good game," Tanner said. "I thought we were pretty good tonight as well. We had one run and didn't get any hits, but that's baseball."
Who will start for USC? Freshman left-hander Jordan Montgomery and senior left-hander Michael Roth will both get consideration, although Roth would be working on just three days rest if he gets the ball.
And one just knows that he wants it.
Tanner wasn't in the mood to name a starting pitcher or make any commitment toward anybody, minutes after suffering a frustrating one-run loss at the College World Series.
"No, I haven't had any thoughts about that yet. We haven't had any conversations," Tanner said. "I didn't go into this game anticipating a loss, so I haven't given that any thought."
WEBB IS WONDERFUL: Left-handed reliever Tyler Webb's team-leading 37th appearance of the season was also his longest stint of the year, as he threw 5.1 innings and retired 16 of the 19 batters he faced, with four strikeouts. But it wasn't enough in the 2-1 loss.
Webb's lengthy outing in relief of Colby Holmes means bullpen stalwarts Matt Price and Evan Beal should be available for duty in Wednesday's elimination game against Kent State. However, Webb likely won't see the mound again until Thursday at the earliest, should the Gamecocks get past the Golden Flashes.
"Tyler Webb came in for us and just battled his rear end off, and gave us a chance to maybe get something going," Tanner said. "But we just weren't able to get any runs against their pitching staff. He's been one of our better guys the entire year, so we obviously went to him a little earlier than normal. But they had two runs on the board, and we wanted to try to play the hold game right there. He's good enough to do that. He continued to hold them. We just didn't scratch for him."
His appearance Monday in relief of Holmes marked Webb's longest relief outing of his career, and was his longest outing overall since hurling 7.1 innings against Southern Illinois on Feb. 26, 2011. Over his last four outings, Webb has fanned 14 in 11 innings, allowing just four hits.
Webb became the fifth CWS pitcher since 2000 to toss at least 5.1 scoreless innings of relief in Omaha, and the third USC pitcher to achieve that notoriety. The others are Matt Price (5.2 innings against Virginia on June 24, 2011), Taylor Jungmann of Texas (5.2 innings against Arizona State on June 16, 2009), Tommy Boss of Florida (5.2 innings against Arizona State on June 23, 2005) and Matt Campbell of USC (5.1 innings against Clemson on June 19, 2002).
MORE MARZILLI MAGIC: Evan Marzilli had two of USC's four hits on the night, including an RBI-triple in the fifth inning that gave him 21 multi-hit games this season. The triple was his seventh career extra-base hit in the CWS, including six doubles. It was his first career triple in the NCAA tournament. Marzilli also made a nice running catch in center field.
However, the rest of the USC lineup was a dismal 2-for-27 (.074) in the contest against Stanek and Astin.
"He came after us again," Marzilli said of Stanek. "Just like last time, he came after us with a good fastball, good curveball, and he had good control of it. He was a great pitcher and he came out and had a great game, I couldn't take advantage of the situation I had in a couple of other places."
CLUTCH HITTNG ABSENT: USC struggled all night long to get anything going offensively against Stanek and Astin by managing just four hits in 31 at-bats, including a dismal 1-for-10 (.100) with runners in scoring position. The only hit for USC in that situation was Marzilli's triple.
USC had a good chance to score in the bottom of the fourth when Tanner English pushed a two-out bunt to the right side with Adam Matthews on third base and USC trailing 2-0. However, Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello charged in, scooped up the bunt and tagged out the speedy English.
"We just couldn't get in a situation to make too many things happen," Tanner said. "Tanner English with two outs, he put a bunt down just on his own. You get a run there probably with anybody at first base except Ficociello. He's great over there. It just wasn't quite inside enough for him to get past it. He made a great play."
Arkansas held its opponent to one run or fewer for the fifth time in the NCAA tournament. Since 2005, the only team to allow a run or less in five different games in a single NCAA tournament was Virginia in 2011 (five). The Razorbacks' pitching staff has allowed just two runs over the last 32.1 innings and boasts a staff ERA of 1.75 (14 earned runs in 72 innings) in the NCAA tournament.
FLORIDA STUNNED BY KENT STATE: The mighty Gators have fallen. Florida started the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 national seed, but went two-and-out at the College World Series as Kent State, the last of two Cinderellas alive, pulled off a shocking 5-4 victory in an elimination game on Monday. The Golden Flashes jumped to a 4-0 lead after two innings and survived a furious rally in the ninth when Florida loaded the bases (two walks, sacrifice bunt and hit by pitch) with one out in search of the tying run, but Casey Turgeon struck out swinging (checked swing) and Justin Shafer flied to deep right field for the final out.
Kent State grouped four singles and an error off reliever Jonathan Crawford in the top of the second after UF starter Hudson Randall departed after one inning due to heat-related issues. KSU led 5-1 when Florida scored a run in the sixth and two in the seventh to cut the deficit to 5-4. However, the Gators left 12 runners stranded, six in the final three innings.
"I don't think many people gave us much of a chance today," Stricklin said. "I'm really proud of what we were able to accomplish. We felt that we could win this game. It wasn't the prettiest thing in the end. It was gut-wrenching no matter who you were rooting for. Even if you weren't rooting for anybody, that was tough to watch."
MORE HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIPS?: All signs point towards Major League Baseball and college baseball, often at each other's throats in the past, achieving a better working relationship in the future. In fact, MLB is thinking about funding scholarships, which could possibly lead to the NCAA increasing the number of baseball scholarships in the future.
"Major League Baseball, the Players' Association and the NCAA have had a wide range of discussions in recent years," Dennis Poppe of the NCAA said recently. "It's varied from the diversification of the players in baseball, scholarships, ways to enhance college baseball. Areas of interest that, really if you put it in perspective, benefit the entire sport, whether it's college, professional or whatever.
"I've been very impressed with the willingness of both Major League Baseball and the Players' Association to discuss these issues. We've had many discussions, but I need to re-emphasize that at this point, they're all conceptual. Nothing has been decided, nothing has been agreed upon. We're continuing to have good discussions. It just takes time."
* USC is 8-3 all-time in its second game of the CWS. The Gamecocks had won their second game in Omaha in five straight trips, last losing in 1985 to Oklahoma State.
* USC has a team ERA of 1.77 in the NCAA tournament this season (66 innings, 13 earned runs).
* All 34 players on the Kent State roster hail from Ohio or Western Pennsylvania.
* USC fell to 14-13 in one-run games this season and 6-6 when it scorse two or fewer runs.
* USC had been 25-0 when the opponent scores two or fewer runs this season, but Monday's loss marked the first time the Gamecocks had lost when giving up so few runs.
* The two teams combined for 10 hits on Monday, with USC collecting four hits. USC is 9-11 this season when it's out-hit by an opponent.
* The 2-1 win by Arkansas means this year is the first time since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams that neither team that opened the CWS 2-0 is a national seed.
Gamecock Central has provided the most in-depth coverage of Gamecock sports and recruiting since 1998! Give our service a try with our special 7-Day FREE TRIALClick * Bo Bigham of Arkansas became the first player called out on batter's interference at the CWS since June 14, 2000 (Brian Barre, Southern Cal). Here to view this Link.!