Gamecocks outlast Gators in College World Series

By Jesse Simonton

Independent Florida Alligator, U. Florida via UWIRE

OMAHA, Neb. — Just call them the Cardiac ‘Cocks or Houdini’s Heroes.

South Carolina did it again.

In an instant classic, the reigning national champions are just one win away from defending their title after stunning the Gators 2-1 in 11 innings Monday night in a thrilling Game 1 of the College World Series Finals.

In a jam-packed TD Ameritrade Park, the Gamecocks (54-14) escaped multiple contentious situations and later scored the winning run to take control of the best-of-three series.

“Incredible college baseball game. Hudson Randall is very, very special,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “We hung in there and eventually tied it up. We were able to get a couple of atom balls.”

In the top of the 11th inning, South Carolina’s injured first baseman Christian Walker singled with one out. The sophomore then stole second and scored on a wild play involving a pair of errors from UF catcher Mike Zunino and center fielder Bryson Smith.

The Gators now must win two games to become the first SEC school to win a national championship in football, basketball and baseball, and with their backs against the wall, they’ll throw freshman Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.43 ERA) against Gamecocks’ ace Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA) tonight at 8 p.m. in Game 2 of the best-of-three championship series.

“We experienced it against Mississippi State. We just have to put it behind us,” said UF designated hitter Brian Johnson. “Tomorrow is a new day”

The Gamecocks again displayed their late inning magic Monday, exiting the ninth inning unscathed with a 4-2-3 double play after the Gators (53-18) loaded the bases with no outs.

Florida missed another chance to walk-off in the 10th inning, as USC left fielder Jake Williams gunned down Cody Dent at the plate after he led-off the frame with a single.

“We battled.  We didn’t give it away,” Tanner said.  “We have to win late.  That’s the way we play. We keep the game in perspective.  We don’t let it tear us up when we’re behind or when we don’t have that movement.”

USC closer Matt Price, who tossed 90-plus pitches in South Carolina’s win Friday night, recorded his 19th save with a scoreless 11th.

“The most frustrating thing is had opportunities to win this game,” UF’s starter Randall said.

“The team that beat us today is ourselves.”

The devastating loss wasted a valiant effort from the right-hander. The Gators ace was strong for seven innings, but in the eighth the sophomore coughed up the tying run after issuing a leadoff walk to USC shortstop Peter Mooney.

With two outs, Scott Wingo ripped an RBI single up the middle to square the contest at one.

“We had our opportunities. Wingo makes a great play. …That was probably the most pivotal part of the game,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

“It was a frustrating game for us at the end there, but they’re the defending national champs for a reason.”

The second baseman’s pair of defensive heroics in the ninth were also a major factor in the Gamecocks’ comeback win.

But for the first seven innings, Randall flaunted his impeccable command, throwing 18 first-pitch strikes, going to a three-ball count just once and stifling the Gamecocks’ bats.

After Dent booted a ball in the second, Randall pitched around the third baseman’s fifth error of the year, retiring 18 of the next 19 batters he faced.

The Gators manufactured their lone run in the third, taking an early 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly from Dent.

The sophomore infielder plated just his seventh run on the year, scoring Tyler Thompson, led off the inning with a four-pitch walk and later reached third on a wild pitch.

Two hours before the dramatics ensued, most of the pregame theater surrounded Walker.

Late Sunday, word leaked that the Gamecocks’ leader in average (.355) and homers (10) had a stress fracture in his left wrist and would be doubtful for the series.

He was not in the original lineup Monday, but after knocking out several long balls in batting practice, Tanner was convinced he could play.

In his first at-bat of the game, Walker sliced a double down the right field line and later scored the winning run.

“You know, I knew it was going to take a lot of pain specifically for me not to play,” Walker said.

Nearly lost in the evening’s dramatics was Forrest Koumas’ start for USC. The freshman, who made his first collegiate start against Randall in Gainesville on March 26, hadn’t pitched in 21 days but the power righty showed no signs of rust, tossing 5.2 innings with just the one run allowed.

“He did a heck of a job, especially being a freshman,” O’Sullivan said. ” I thought he hung in there really well. … I thought we were starting to press a little bit as the game went on.”

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