CHAPEL HILL, NC — JORDAN MONTGOMERY prepares to pitch every inning just as Michael Roth did. There is the sweeping of the rubber with his cleats, sometimes with both feet. There is the peering over the edge of the glove in front of his face before throwing his warmup tosses.
Then Montgomery goes about his business like Roth, the greatest pitcher in South Carolina baseball history. Montgomery looked every bit like Roth on Sunday at Boshamer Stadium, carving up a North Carolina batting order that might be the most potent in the country.
“Any time a lefty is pitching good, he reminds you of Roth, right?” said USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers. “Roth pitched good all the time. It’s one of those deals where (Montgomery) can do some of the same kind of things.
“There’s a lot of differences between the two, but in terms of competing and making a pitch and not trying to put too much into a pitch when he needs it, he has some of the same qualities that Roth had.”
Montgomery had all of the qualities of Roth in his four-hit shutout, a gem that moved USC into Monday’s decisive game against UNC and the chance to return to the College World Series for a fourth consecutive year.
“All credit to Jordan,” said USC catcher Grayson Greiner. “He won that game for us. He’s our Roth of last year.”
It was the kind of performance USC has come to expect from Montgomery, whose eight innings of shutout work against Arkansas last June helped push the Gamecocks closer to the College World Series championship series. A week ago in the Columbia Regional winners’ bracket, Montgomery blanked Liberty for seven innings while striking out 11 without issuing a walk.
The sophomore has been on the big stage enough to be void of nerves. So, in the postgame media session, when asked if facing the UNC lineup might have caused some anxiety, Montgomery answered it as if he was throwing a 1-2 fastball on the corner of the plate.
“No,” Montgomery said. “Actually, the elimination game kind of game a little more incentive to do good. I didn’t want our seniors to go out that way, so I just wanted to get a win and try to get them back to Omaha.”
Montgomery generally is a young man of few words. He lets his left arm and his work on the pitcher’s mound do the talking for him.
His 121-pitch masterpiece limited UNC to four harmless singles and left the Tar Heels having not touched home plate for the first time in 96 games. No UNC base runner reached third base.
It was the first complete game shutout by a USC pitcher in an NCAA tournament game since Chris Hernandez blanked East Carolina in the 2003 Atlanta Regional. In the 26th starting assignment of his young career, it was Montgomery’s first complete game.
Montgomery did it the way Roth did throughout his sterling USC career. “Gumby,” as he is known to his teammates, rarely overpowers opposing hitters and generally has them cursing their inability to hit batted balls on the nose.
“That’s the magic of Jordan,” Greiner said. “He has that ability to keep hitters off balance and not square many balls up. We’ve gotten used to it in two years and we’ve kind of taken it for granted. He’s just that good.”
So in control of the game was Montgomery, his catcher made two casual visits to the mound. The first trip came in the sixth inning after back-to-back errors by shortstop Joey Pankake and Max Schrock put UNC runners on base with one out.
“You’re pitching well,” Greiner recalled telling Montgomery. “Don’t let anything affect you.”
Montgomery, in what Greiner described as a typical response, said. “I know.”
Four pitches later, UNC’s Skye Bolt grounded into a double play.
Two innings later, Montgomery went to a rare full count before issuing his only walk of the game to Korey Dunbar with one out. Greiner again visited his batterymate.
“When I go out to talk to him, there is no fear in his face,” Greiner said. “He’s just calm as can be.”
Three batters later, Montgomery was out of the inning unscathed. Then he pitched a perfect ninth inning, giving USC everything it wanted — a win that kept the Gamecocks alive for another day, and a complete game that kept their bullpen fresh.
It was Roth-like in every way.