All year long, University of South Carolina second baseman Scott Wingo has come through in clutch situations for the Gamecocks with his bat- including four game-winning walk-off hits. On Monday night in Omaha, the senior from Greenville, S.C. did it with his glove, too – twice denying the Florida Gators their own walk-off celebration in the first game of the 2011 College World Series championship.
“I’m out there to make plays,” Wingo said after the game.
And did he ever – electrifying a crowd of 25,851 at TD Ameritrade Park with a pair of brilliant defensive stops in the bottom of the ninth inning that helped USC escape a no-out, bases-loaded jam against the second-seeded Gators. Those gems kept the Gamecocks in the game – and as a result they’re now in position to become only the sixth team ever to win back-to-back CWS championships.
But Wingo wasn’t the only source of heroics for the Gamecocks (54-15). Sophomore first baseman Christian Walker – playing with a broken bone in his left wrist – laced a one-out single in the top of the eleventh inning that would prove to be the decisive offensive moment in this extended defensive struggle.
As Walker attempted to steal second base, Florida catcher Mike Zunino threw the ball into centerfield. With Walker heading to third on the error, Gators’ centerfielder Bryson Smith threw the ball into the stands – allowing him to trot home for the go-ahead run.
Sophomore reliever Matt Price (below) worked a scoreless eleventh inning to nail down the win and pick up his 19th save of the year.
“So many opportunities for them … we were just very fortunate to be able to win,” USC head coach Ray Tanner said after the game.
The thrilling 2-1 victory gives South Carolina – the tournament’s fourth-overall seed – a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three CWS championship. Florida (53-18) now must beat the defending champs in back-to-back games in order to claim the school’s first CWS crown.
That won’t be easy.
After losing their 2010 CWS opener against Oklahoma, the Gamecocks reeled off six straight wins in Omaha last year (including a pair of victories over arch-rival Clemson) en route to capturing the school’s first-ever national championship in a major sport. This year, USC has yet to lose in NCAA postseason play – riding a nine-game win streak that dates back to a May 27 loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament.
In fact, USC has now tied the NCAA mark for consecutive postseason (15) and CWS (10) wins – records it could break by beating the Gators on Tuesday.
For the second straight game, South Carolina emerged victorious thanks to their opponents’ miscues. On Friday the Gamecocks bounced top-seeded Virginia from the tournament with a 13-inning, 3-2 victory – plating the winning run after a pair of errant throws by the Cavaliers.
But while the Gamecocks have indeed been opportunistic, their steady pitching and scrappy defense – epitomized by Wingo’s game-saving play in the bottom of the ninth – has kept them in games.
“We were just able to hang in there,” Tanner said after the game.
True freshman hurler Forrest Koumas pitched well for the Gamecocks in his first CWS action, give up just one run on three hits and a walk in his 5.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile Florida starter Hudson Randall was brilliant – holding USC’s potent offense to just one run on three hits and a walk in 7.2 innings.
South Carolina hopes to follow in the footsteps of Oregon State (2006-07), LSU (1996-97), Stanford (1987-88), Southern California (1970-74) and Texas (1949-50) as the only back-to-back CWS champions. Southern California has the most overall championships (12), although the Trojans haven’t reached Omaha in over a decade.
First pitch for game two is set for 8:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday night with ESPN once again televising the game nationally.
Pics: via Daylife