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OMAHA, Neb. -- A mystical quality exists of late around the South Carolina baseball team.
Be it the mind-blowing 22-game postseason winning streak, three win-or-go-home victories in 30 hours at the College World Series or a pair of bases-loaded walks to even the score and go ahead in a 3-2 win Friday night over Arkansas to advance to the championship series, the Gamecocks are magicians at TD Ameritrade Park.
And if so, Michael Roth is the resident Houdini.
|Michael Roth is 8-0 in the postseason for South Carolina.|
Roth, a senior from Greer, S.C., has pulled enough gems out of his hat in Omaha to construct a championship ring. He's already made his case as one of the most accomplished pitchers in CWS history.
The 6-foot-1 left-hander will have one final appearance on the CWS mound Monday night as the Gamecocks try to stave off elimination after losing Game 1 of the final series to Arizona.
What will Roth do for an encore?
Just the mention of it "brings a smile to my face," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, who has reinvented his dugout demeanor over the past few seasons thanks in part to Roth's influence.
Tanner said before this series that Roth taught him how to keep things loose and have fun again around baseball.
"Win, lose or draw," Tanner said, "he's an amateur."
Such an attitude served to relieve pressure from the Gamecocks, who had every reason to feel that pressure as winners here in the 2010 championship series over UCLA and last year against Florida.
"I just got to the point where, hey, you don't need all that stress and anxiety," Tanner said.
As coaches and players around him stressed over the implications at stake Wednesday as the Gamecocks' game with Kent State was rained out, Roth tweeted a photo of reliever Tyler Webb taped to a chair in the locker room.
"It's going to be my last college game," Roth said of his start in the championship series. "That will definitely mean something. I'm just going to compete as always. I love this park. I love Omaha. We're playing for a national title. Nothing better than that."
Teammates savor the chance to play behind Roth.
"Mike is everything you could want in a player," first baseman Christian Walker said. "He puts the team on his back and gives everything he can. We definitely feed off that and use it to our advantage."
He's already won two games in Omaha this year. Of course he has; that's all Roth does in the postseason -- win games.
|Coach Ray Tanner said Michael Roth has taught him how to have fun again around baseball.|
In his career, Roth is 8-0 in the postseason with a 1.32 ERA in 88 1/3 innings. In the CWS, he's 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in a record 53 2/3 innings.
His next start will make Roth the first pitcher to start eight career games at the CWS. A win over the Wildcats would tie Roth with teammate Matt Price for the most wins by a pitcher. That is, if Price doesn't win another one. Price earned his fifth CWS victory against Arkansas on Friday.
But it's Roth, no doubt, who carries the flag for the Gamecocks.
"I can't wait for him to get out there," center fielder Evan Marzilli said.
In this CWS, Roth has thrown 15 1/3 innings, allowing four runs, earning wins over Florida and Kent State.
South Carolina trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning Friday night before it scored on Joey Pankake's single and a bases-loaded walk to Walker. Despite the circumstances, Roth said he never considered what was near.
"Was I staring at the end?" he said. "I didn't think I was staring at the end. We never were worried."
Roth even grabbed a bat in the seventh inning to pinch hit with the bases loaded. Before he could help his bid to pitch another game, Roth watched as Arkansas nailed Marzilli at the plate on a ball that escaped catcher Jake Wise.
Roth had collected four hits in 22 plate appearances this season. Nonetheless, Tanner had faith in him. That's how deeply the coach's confidence in Roth runs.
Up next for Roth: the challenge to return on short rest from the first two-hitter at the CWS since 1972.
History indicates Roth will pull off the trick. Just don't ask how he did it. A magician never reveals his secrets.