Gamecocks win first College World Series title
OMAHA, Neb. – Whit Merrifield’s RBI single with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning gave South Carolina its first baseball national championship with a 2-1 victory over UCLA in the College World Series on Tuesday night.
The Gamecocks (54-16) won six straight games after losing their CWS opener against Oklahoma. They also won the last championship played at Rosenblatt Stadium, the CWS’ home since 1950.
“I don’t know how I feel,” coach Ray Tanner said. “I’ve never been in this situation. I know one thing, I’m extremely proud of these guys and my coaches. It’s unbelievable.
“I’m off the ground right now.”
It was the fifth championship decided in an extra-inning final, and first since Southern California topped Florida State – also 2-1 – in 15 innings in 1970.
Scott Wingo drew a leadoff walk and took second when catcher Steve Rodriguez, perhaps distracted when Evan Marzilli squared to bunt, let an inside 1-0 pitch get past him. Wingo moved to third when Marzilli got a bunt down, and scored when Merrifield drilled a 2-0 pitch by Dan Klein past the pulled-in outfield of the Bruins (51-17) and into right field.
Matt Price (5-1) got the win, allowing one hit over 2 2-3 innings for the Gamecocks, who also went to the CWS finals in 1975, ’77 and 2002, but came up short.
“I could have gone another two innings if I had to,” Price said. “The adrenaline kicked in.”
Klein (6-1) took the loss after working 3 1-3 innings for the Bruins (51-17) – “the greatest club we played the entire year,” Tanner said.
Each team had plenty of scoring chances but had difficulty converting in Rosenblatt’s finale before the event moves to a new downtown stadium next year. A video tribute to the stadium, fireworks and a trumpeter playing a slow version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” finished Rosenblatt’s run as the CWS home.
“To be the last team to win it here, that’s amazing,” Price said.
Price worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, then allowed only one baserunner the rest of the way.
South Carolina had runners in scoring position in four of the first six innings, including loading the bases in the second, but could push nothing across until the eighth.
Pinch-hitter Brady Thomas reached on a sharply hit ball up the middle to start the inning, chasing reliever Erik Goeddel. Klein came on, and pinch-runner Robert Beary moved to second on Kyle Enders’ grounder.
Klein tried to trick Beary with a fake pickoff to second, with second baseman Cody Regis acting as if he were giving chase to a bad throw into center field. Beary wasn’t fooled, but South Carolina fans didn’t appreciate the shenanigans and booed loudly.
They were cheering moments later when Haney hit a chopper to the right side. The ball glanced off UCLA first baseman Dean Espy’s glove, and Regis tried to grab it with his bare hand. But Regis couldn’t get it, and Beary rounded third for home as the ball trickled into right field.
The Bruins loaded the bases in the top of the ninth against Price. Chris Giovinazzo reached on his chopper to third when Adrian Morales’ throw pulled first baseman Christian Walker off the bag, and Walker was late with the sweep tag. Trevor Brown blooped one into center, and Price walked Rodriguez, the No. 9 batter, on four pitches.
But Price struck out Niko Gallego to get out of trouble.
UCLA had to reset its infield for the bottom of the ninth. Espy punched a dugout wall with his right – throwing – hand after committing the error that led to the tying run, and that left him icing his hand. Brown moved from third base to first, Regis went from second to third and Adrian Williams took over at second.
The moves never hurt the Bruins. Brown made three terrific plays at first, making a scoop on Gallego’s throw from short to get Adrian Morales leading off the 10th, fielding Haney’s roller and flipping to the covering Klein just in time to get the runner, and later hauling in a throw in the dirt from Klein on a bunt.
Michael Roth, the situational reliever who pitched a three-hit complete game Friday in a 5-1 win over Clemson in his first start in 14 months, got the ball again on three days’ rest. He went five innings and allowed a run on six hits, walked two and struck out three.
Like the Gamecocks, UCLA missed out on early scoring chances. Roth picked off a runner at second in the first inning, got a double-play ball in the second and a groundout and strikeout to end the third after Beau Amaral doubled.
The Bruins broke through in the fifth when Brown hit a leadoff single, moved over on a sacrifice and scored on Gallego’s two-out single to left.
Rob Rasmussen started for the Bruins and went six innings, allowing no runs and six hits and walking four.
“It feels like I’m in a dream,” Enders said. “Now that it’s over, I can relax.”