Gamecocks knock off rival Gators to start march to 3-peat
Omaha, Neb. — Michael Roth turned in another strong College World Series start, Erik Payne’s bases-loaded triple scored the go-ahead runs and South Carolina began the last leg of its pursuit of a third straight national title with a 7-3 win over Florida on Saturday night.
South Carolina (46-17) extended its record NCAA-tournament winning streak to 22 games by beating its Southestern Conference rival and 2011 national runner-up for only the second time in five tries this season.
“I know we’ve had a pretty good run, but it doesn’t feel like that,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “It’s kind of like we’re getting to play baseball, having fun. Our season has been extended. We just try to play hard and play with some awareness and hope some good things happen. We’ve had a little luck along the way.”
Roth (8-1), making his eighth appearance in three years in Omaha, left with one out in the seventh after Florida’s first two batters reached in a two-run game. Tyler Webb got the Gamecocks out of trouble, and Matt Price pitched the last two innings for his 12th save.
Payne’s triple off Brian Johnson (8-5) highlighted a fifth inning in which the Gamecocks turned a 2-0 deficit into a 5-2 lead over the Gators (47-19).
“There’s a reason why they have such a winning streak postseason,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They had some momentum there in the fifth, and it felt like it just got passed down from guy to guy. Obviously we weren’t able to stop it there in the fifth, and that was probably the difference in the ballgame.”
After batting .219 in losing three of their first four against the Gators this season, the Gamecocks had 12 hits against six pitchers.
Mike Zunino, the Florida catcher who was the Seattle Mariners’ first-round draft pick, was 0-for-2 with two walks and a sacrifice fly. He grounded out in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.
Arkansas 8, Kent State 1: Arkansas’ DJ Baxendale bounced back from one of his worst starts of the year to turn in his best.
The junior right-hander held the Golden Flashes hitless into the fifth inning and combined with Brandon Moore on a four-hitter, spoiling Kent State’s first appearance in Omaha.
Baxendale’s performance was a lot different than his previous outing, when he was hit for five runs in four innings in an 8-1 loss to Baylor in the super regionals.
“Against Baylor, I really felt like I let the team down,” Baxendale said. “To come out here at this stage and be able to get us a victory in Game 1, it was huge for not only my confidence but I think for the team’s as well. We know any time you can win the first game, it just keeps building off that.”
Baxendale and Moore got some unexpected help from the bottom of the lineup. No. 9 batter Jake Wise homered for the first time since February and also hit a two-run single. No. 8 batter Matt Vinson hit a two-run double that gave Arkansas (45-20) a 5-1 lead in the sixth.
“My 3- and 4-holers didn’t get a hit today and we scored eight runs. Somebody got it going,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “That’s a good sign.”
Kent State (46-19), the first team from the Mid-American Conference to make it to the CWS since Eastern Michigan in 1976, didn’t get a hit until Sawyer Polen’s infield single with two out in the fifth.
“DJ Baxendale was outstanding,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “He kept us off balance. His fastball was sharp and he throws the breaking ball when he’s behind in the count. He really competes.”
The Flashes will now try to stave off elimination playing in a bracket that includes South Carolina, Florida and an Arkansas team that just beat them.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re not just happy to be here,” Stricklin said. “We want to compete and get some wins and make a run at it. It’s still possible. We’re still here.”