MYRTLE BEACH | With the first game of the Super Regional on the line, South Carolina closer Matt Price walked onto the field from the bullpen. With no outs in the eighth inning and a Coastal Carolina player standing on each base as the Gamecocks were clinging to a one-run lead, Price went to work.
Fifteen pitches later, Price had a strikeout, a strikeout and a comebacker to hand his team the parachute it desperately needed save itself from a potential free fall. In the process, the Gamecocks held on for a 4-3 victory against the Chanticleers on Saturday afternoon at BB&T Coastal Field to move within one victory of their first College World Series appearance in six years.
“The situation we put Matt Price in, you really have to be Houdini to get out if that,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “He’s been pretty good for us through the season, and he’s been pretty special some other times, too. He was really special again today.”
USC (47-15) will play Coastal Carolina (55-9) at 1 p.m. today in the second game of the best-of-three series, with the Chanticleers needing to win to force a decisive game Monday. USC right-hander Sam Dyson (5-5) will face Coastal left-hander Cody Wheeler (12-0).
Coastal loaded the bases on a hit off starter Blake Cooper and walks by relievers Jose Mata and Michael Roth to start the eighth.
“From a managing-the-game standpoint, you’re just trying to keep the game in check, whether they tie it up or go up by one or two,” Tanner said. “You’re hoping to minimize the damage there. You’re not thinking you’re going to get what happened today. That was an incredible performance.”
Price, a redshirt freshman from Sumter who also pitched around a walk and infield hit in the final inning, earned his ninth — and biggest — save of the season..
“You know the bases are loaded when you go in, but you can’t think about that,” said Price, who has struck out 67 batters in 45 innings this season. “You’ve just got to go right after the hitter.”
Coastal coach Gary Gilmore was disappointed Chance Gilmore, Taylor Motter and Daniel Bowman couldn’t make something happen in the eighth. But he praised Price’s for showing him a 93 mph fastball and hard slider.
“Obviously, the scouting report we had on Mr. Price was definitely not the Mr. Price I saw today,” Gilmore said. “That fellow is pretty good. Not that the scouting report wasn’t good, but I can tell you one thing: He was throwing a lot harder than I anticipated him to be throwing.”
USC scored three runs off Coastal starter Matt Rein (7-1) in the first inning on one hit, a two-run single by Christian Walker. Kyle Enders added a sacrifice fly. The Gamecocks added a run in the second inning when Jackie Bradley drew a bases-loaded walk off reliever Josh Conway.
But that would be it, and USC would have to its pitching and defense — as it has much of the season — to finish out the win.
Cooper (12-1) threw seven solid innings, allowing three runs on six hits, which included Bowman’s two-run homer in the second and Gilmore’s bloop RBI single in the fourth.
“I’ve got to give credit to their guys. I see why they’re batting .320, .330. Their guys battle with two strikes and don’t swing at many bad pitches,” Cooper said. “I made one bad pitch to him (Bowman), and he hit it out. As a starting pitcher, you can’t let that faze you. You just want to continue to stay strong throughout the game.”
Gilmore had nothing but praise for Cooper.
“That kid has an unbelievable feel for off-speed (pitches) and command of the strike zone,” Gilmore said. “I see why that young man wins all the time. I knew, for us, hits were going to come at a premium. You look at every time he pitches, and it’s hard to get two and three hits in an inning off him. He’s so doggone good at changing speeds and moving the ball around.”
It also helped that Cooper’s infielders made plays behind him, including second baseman Scott Wingo’s rally-killing double play in the sixth, when the Chants had the bases loaded with one out. Bowman hit a grounder that glanced off Cooper and rolled toward Wingo at second, where stepped back onto the bag and threw off-balance to first to complete the double play.
Wingo said the team knows what it must do when it’s struggling to score.
“We just bear down and try to make good pitches and play good defense,” he said.
Gilmore said his team didn’t get the breaks it got last weekend when it came back to defeat College of Charleston in the regional.
“Today you look at how the ball ricocheted and bounced, and it was just their day today,” he said.