South Carolina returns to CWS
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Ray Tanner gathered his players around him on the infield soon after clinching a spot in the College World Series.
"We didn't start out exactly like we wanted," Tanner told them.
But the two-time defending national champions always seem to end up where they want to be: in Omaha playing for a title.
South Carolina (45-17) wrapped up the NCAA super regional series with a 5-1 victory over Oklahoma on Monday, extending the Gamecocks' record with their 21st straight tournament victory. It's their third consecutive trip to the eight-team finals, 11th overall and sixth in Tanner's 16 seasons in charge.
"He's a magic man," ace lefty Michael Roth said.
Tanner's team has a chance to create a little more magic, too -- it could join the powerhouse program of Southern Cal as the only schools with more than two consecutive CWS crowns.
And the Gamecocks did it with plenty of new faces. There were five players in Monday's lineup that weren't part of the team a year ago. Also gone are the last two College World Series MVP's -- former star outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and second baseman Scott Wingo.
Then the Gamecocks struggled to a 1-5 start in Southeastern Conference play, but that didn't prevent returning players from lowering their sights when the year began.
"We knew we had a good group of guys," closer Matt Price said.
That showed again in a game suspended Sunday because of heavy rain. Once things resumed Monday, South Carolina quickly took control to put away the Sooners (42-25).
Price got catcher Dylan Neal on a check-swing, called third strike to set off the latest celebration at Carolina Stadium.
The Gamecocks took advantage of two Oklahoma mistakes to build a 2-0 lead in the seventh. Chase Vergason's two-run double put things away an inning later and gave South Carolina a 5-1 lead.
South Carolina opens CWS play Saturday against Florida, the tournament's No. 1 seed and the Gamecocks' SEC rival. The Gators were also the club that fell to the Gamecocks in the CWS championship series last summer.
The Sooners had been the last team to defeat the Gamecocks in NCAA tournament play, taking a 4-3 victory at the 2010 College World Series. Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway hoped his players could channel that memory this week at Carolina Stadium. Instead, the Sooners managed only one run and seven hits in two games.
"You look at their pitching staff and you wonder how you're going to score," Golloway said.
Oklahoma was trying to force a deciding third game, but reliever Steven Okert could not hold down the Gamecocks once things resumed.
The Sooners had their chances, though.
Tyler Webb (6-1) took over on the mound for Colby Holmes, who shut down Oklahoma on one hit through five innings Sunday. Webb promptly worked himself into trouble with an error and two walks to load the bases, but after an 11-pitch at-bat, right fielder Cody Reine flied out to right to end the threat.
That's when the Gamecocks finally broke through off Oklahoma reliever Steven Okert. Connor Bright led off the seventh with a double into the right field corner. Tanner English followed with a bunt to first baseman Evan Mistich, who threw wildly to third attempting to get pinch runner TJ Costen. Instead, Costen ran home with the game's first run.
English moved to third on Vergason's sacrifice bunt and scored when Okert (9-8) threw a wild pitch to the left of catcher Tanner Toal to give the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead.
The Sooners' last best chance came when Jack Mayfield and Garrett Carey walked to open the seventh. Golloway called for a hit-and-run but Mistich couldn't make contact and Mayfield was easily thrown out at third by catcher Dante Rosenberg.
Moments later, Mistich followed with an RBI single off Price to draw Oklahoma within 2-1. But Price struck out pinch hitter Chase Simpson and got Caleb Bushyhead on a fly ball to left to end the threat.
South Carolina put it away with a three-run eighth, highlighted by Vergason's two-run double to left center. All that was left for Gamecocks fans who returned from Sunday night was the countdown to Omaha -- something they've grown accustomed to the past few years.
Price earned his 11th save of the season and 41st of his career, tying the SEC mark of Georgia's Joshua Fields.
Once the final pitch to Neal was called strike three, Price smiled wide and waited for his teammates to pile on. The celebration wasn't wild or excessive, not from a club which knows too well what it's like to win with a national title on the line.
"Once we start the postseason," Price said, "we just try and go out and win every at-bat and every pitch."
Kent State 3, Oregon 2
EUGENE, Ore. -- Jimmy Rider drove in the winning run with a shallow pop fly that landed just inside the left-field foul line in the bottom of the ninth, lifting Kent State to a 3-2 win over Oregon on Monday night and sending the Golden Flashes to their first College World Series.
Rider's hit off Oregon closer Jimmie Sherfy fell just out of the reach of shortstop J.J. Altobelli and left fielder Brett Thomas, who appeared to lose track of the ball when it was hit.
Derek Toadvine scored from second base before Thomas could make a throw, making Kent State (46-18) the first team from the Mid-American Athletic Conference since Eastern Michigan in 1976 to advance past the NCAA super regional and book a trip to Omaha.
Trailing 2-0, the Ducks (46-19) tied it in the eighth inning on a single through a hole in the right side of the infield by Ryon Healy that scored Altobelli and Aaron Payne.
Healy's hit was just the fourth -- and last -- hit of the game for Oregon.
Kent State went ahead early, scoring two runs on six hits against Oregon starter Jeff Gold, who didn't make it out of the second inning.
The Golden Flashes scored once in the first on a lined single by T.J. Sutton and then again in the second on a bases-loaded double-play grounder by Evan Campbell.
Arkansas 1, Baylor 0
WACO, Texas -- Jake Wise drove in a run with a two-out single in the top of the 10th inning and Arkansas advanced to the College World Series with a 1-0 victory over Baylor in the deciding game of their super regional on Monday night.
Wise, a sophomore catcher who had entered the game as a defensive replacement, grounded a ball into left field out of the reach of diving shortstop Steve DalPorto.
It will be the seventh CWS appearance for the Razorbacks (44-20), who play Kent State on Saturday.
Colby Suggs (7-0), the fifth Arkansas pitcher, threw the last two innings. Dillon Newman (4-4) pitched the 10th for the Bears (40-17) after starter Tyler Bremer struck out eight and allowed three hits in nine innings.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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