By FITSNews || Enjoy it, Gamecock fans. A national championship is finally on its way to Columbia, S.C.
And the so-called “chicken curse?” Yeah … apparently it doesn’t apply to baseball.
The University of South Carolina – a school long known for its athletic mediocrity and ability to snatch “defeat from the jaws of victory” – finally has something to “cock-a-doodle do” about, as the Gamecocks bested UCLA 2-1 in an eleven inning classic to claim their first-ever College World Series title and the school’s first national championship in a major sport. On Monday, USC battered the favored Bruins 7-1 to get the jump in the best-of-three championship round.
After tying the game 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning on a UCLA throwing error, junior outfielder Whit Merrifield singled home the winning run in the bottom of the eleventh inning – setting off a massive celebration at Rosenblatt Stadium, which hosted the CWS for the 61st and final time this year.
“In that situation you’re trying to get a pitch elevated, and you’re trying to drive it deep into the outfield,” Merrifield said. “I worked the count in my favor and got a fastball, and even though it was kind of down, I got the barrel on it and shot it in the gap.”
Nine days ago, it seemed like South Carolina’s trip to Omaha would be a short one. The Gamecocks opened the double-elimination round of the tournament with a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma – meaning every game was “do-or-die” from that point forward if they wanted to have a shot at the title.
Well, the Gamecocks “did,” reeling off four straight wins to reach the CWS finals – and then winning another two games in a row against UCLA to bring home the title. Previously, USC had only won national titles in women’s track and field and women’s equestrian, although they did finish as the CWS runner-up in 1975, 1977 and 2002.
Jackie Bradley Jr. – who saw his 22-game hitting streak snapped on Tuesday – was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
After defeating Arizona State (the tournament’s top seed) in its first elimination game, USC (54-16) was down to its last strike in a rematch against the Sooners two days later. They held on for a dramatic twelve-inning victory, though, and then got a complete game three-hitter from sophomore reliever Michael Roth to defeat Clemson in the first of two “must-win” games against their arch-rivals. On Saturday, USC bested the Tigers a second time to punch their ticket to the finals.
Roth came up big again in Tuesday’s deciding game – giving up just one run on six hits through five innings. Four pitchers combined to hold UCLA scoreless the rest of the way, but none came up bigger than freshman right-hander Matt Price, who pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to close out the game. Price surrendered just one hit over that stretch, and ended both the tenth and the eleventh frames with clutch strikeouts.
For USC coach Ray Tanner, the national title comes in his fourteenth year at Carolina. Previously, Tanner has won two Southeastern Conference titles and one conference tournament championship with the Gamecocks. He also won the ACC tournament in 1992 with the N.C. State Wolfpack.