OMAHA, Neb. – The South Carolina baseball team still can’t find a way to win a first-round game in the College World Series.
With a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma in an all-day Sunday affair, the Gamecocks dropped their opener for the seventh consecutive time at Rosenblatt Stadium. They haven’t won in the opening round since a victory over Baylor in the 1977 CWS.
USC (48-16) fell into the losers’ bracket Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. against the loser of today’s game between Clemson and Arizona State. Oklahoma (50-16) advanced to play the winner of that contest. USC coach Ray Tanner expects his team to shake off the effects of a very difficult loss.
“It’s the College World Series. I know we're disappointed that we lost, but we get a day off. We'll regroup, try to rest a little bit and be ready to go,” Tanner said. “Our guys, I'm pretty sure they're not ready to depart. They may be a little bit weary tomorrow morning, but these guys are young. They'll bounce back.”
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The defeat made a long day at the ballpark even longer. The game started four hours and 15 minutes after it was originally scheduled to start. A day-long weather system that included intermittent rain and lightning kept the two teams in the dugout for much of that time.
And in the middle of the sixth inning, with Oklahoma leading 3-2, lightning strikes sent the teams back to the safety of their dugouts. It was another two hours and one minute before play resumed. The teams eventually finished in a steady rain with lightning all around, as very few of the crowd of 23,835 were left at the end.
“Yeah, it was a challenge,” Tanner said. “I'm sure it was a challenge for Oklahoma as well. Our guys tried to relax. We tried to have a little fun in the locker room. It's just part of baseball. You have rain delays. And that was a tough one. But it was the same for both teams. And we came out fighting to the end.”
USC senior ace Blake Cooper (12-2), who was pitching for the first time since injuring his right hand in the Super Regional, took the loss after allowing three runs in five innings. He did not return after the mid-game rain delay. He allowed a solo homer and RBI single to Oklahoma shortstop Caleb Bushyhead.
“My hand didn't affect me. It feels fine,” Cooper said. “I made some good pitches and they hit some good pitches. The changeup the guy hit out was right over the middle of the plate. Bad pitch. I was trying to get ahead in the count, and they came out swinging. A lot of their guys swing early.”
The Gamecocks, who got solo homers from Christian Walker and Jackie Bradley in the first four innings off OU starter Michael Rocha (8-2), threatened several times late in the game. They left the bases loaded in the eighth when Brady Thomas lined out to right-field with reliever Jeremy Erben on the mound.
“You have to give credit to Oklahoma's guys on the mound, too,” Tanner said. “They made a couple of pitches when they needed to. We ended up loading the bases there for Brady, and he squares the ball about as good as you can. But it was right at the right fielder.”
Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway agreed.
“I thought South Carolina was just as competitive,” Golloway said. “We got some breaks. You have to play well and you’ve got to get breaks this time of year. And what I mean by that, bases-loaded line drive right at Cody Reine, that was really big for us. We needed that ball to find a glove and it did. It could have gone the other way if it had not.”
USC got the first two runners on in the ninth on consecutive singles by Kyle Enders and Robert Beary. They then cut the lead to 4-3 on a bases-loaded walk to Bradley by closer Ryan Duke. But Duke picked up his 12th save when he induced Adrian Morales to fly out to center to end the game.
“I thought we did a great job there at the last inning,” Tanner said. “We had some pretty good swings in there. We took some pitches. We got on base. We just failed to come up with the big RBI single or double to put us in a good position.”
The Gamecocks outhit Oklahoma 9-7, but they left seven runners in scoring position. And the Sooners got a key insurance run in the eighth on Garrett Buechele’s solo homer off Jose Mata to boost the lead to 4-2.
The Sooners took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Tyler Ogle’s two-out RBI single off Cooper, who surrendered three hits in the inning. However, South Carolina answered right away in the top of the second on Walker’s solo homer to left-center to tie the game.
That homer by Walker, his eighth on the season, snapped USC’s scoreless streak in CWS openers dating back to the fifth inning of its 1982 opener. The Gamecocks did not score in any of their first games in 1985, 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Oklahoma quickly took the lead back in the second with a long ball of their own, a solo homer by Bushyhead to make the score 2-1. But the home-run derby wasn’t over, as Bradley drove a ball deep into the right-field bleachers off Rocha to start the fourth that tied the game once again.The homer was Bradley’s 12th, which ties him for the team lead with Whit Merrifield.
Bradley insisted the Gamecocks aren’t going to pack it in despite the lack of a key hit when it counted most.
“You don't really get down when you're here,” Bradley said. “We just weren't able to get it done today.”
Bushyhead and the Sooners weren’t finished in the early innings either. His two-out RBI single in the fourth handed the lead back to Oklahoma at 3-2, one they would not relinquish.