OMAHA, Neb. – To stay alive in the College World Series against archrival Clemson, South Carolina went to the Upstate to get it done.
Sophomore left-hander Michael Roth and senior catcher Kyle Enders, who are both products of Riverside High in Greer, combined to shut down the Tigers 5-1 Friday night at Rosenblatt Stadium to force a showdown game at 7 tonight for the opportunity to play in the NCAA national championship series.
South Carolina will serve as the home team. Neither coach named a starter, although USC coach Ray Tanner discussed right-hander Sam Dyson and Clemson coach Jack Leggett discussed left-hander Casey Harman as a possibility.
In his first start of the season, Roth tossed a complete-game three-hitter, while Enders drove in two runs with a solo homer and RBI single as the Gamecocks (51-16) won their third consecutive elimination game.
After an opening loss to Oklahoma, the Gamecocks have defeated Arizona State and Oklahoma before giving Clemson (45-24) its first loss in this CWS. The win also has the Gamecocks flashing back to eight years ago. In 2002, the same scenario occurred with USC needing a pair of victories to get past an unbeaten Clemson team into the national championship game. The Gamecocks proceeded to win by scores of 12-4 and 10-2 to do just that.
Roth (2-1) started his first game of the season after 35 relief appearances covering only 26 1/3 innings. He had a 1.37 ERA with three saves entering the game, and he went right to work against the Tigers. The polished 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, whose previous longest stint this season was 3 1/3 innings against Bucknell in the NCAA Columbia regional, got 16 groundball outs and threw 109 pitches while carving up the Tigers with an assortment of off-speed pitches and great location. He walked just one batter.
“I was very confident going into the game he would give us a chance to win through three or four innings, and we’d figure out what we were going to do,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “Then he kept stretching it out. That was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever had a young man pitch for me. It was one for the record books as far as I’m concerned.”
Roth, who has been a situational lefty out of the bullpen all season, was delighted to get the start in such a big game.
“I was surprised,” he said. “Coach (Mark) Calvi came into my room. He was like, ‘Are you OK to start?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ But I am honored they called on me against such a great team. Clemson swings the bats really well lately. And we were able to get them cold tonight.”
Roth and Enders especially appreciated the aspect that two former high school teammates could continue their exploits on college baseball’s biggest stage.
“I was a senior (at Riverside), and he started for us as a freshman so I got to play a whole year with him,” Enders said. “For him to come to South Carolina and me to be able to catch him in the College World Series is a pretty cool story. He was an all-star and a great player as a freshman so I knew he’d be playing Division I baseball. He’s the same person he was as a (high school) freshman. He’s real loose and relaxed, and he just goes out there on the field. He’s never tense. He just has fun. That’s a big reason for his success.”
Leggett also tipped his cap to Roth.
“He pitched a good ballgame against us,” Leggett said. “He kept the ball down. He got a ton of ground balls and they made all the plays. We never really had a chance to get anything going offensively.”
But Leggett said the Tigers would not allow this loss to carry over.
“This ballgame is over. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve just got to come back tomorrow and be ready to play,” he said.
USC took a 4-1 lead with two outs in the fourth inning when Enders launched a solo homer into the left-field seats off reliever David Haselden, who took over for Dominic Leone (3-2) in the third inning. Enders picked up another RBI in the sixth to push the lead to 5-1 when he grounded a ball through the left side to score Brady Thomas, who might not have scored with a good relay throw by Clemson third baseman John Hinson
“We played a near-perfect game for us,” Tanner said. “We played extremely well. We manufactured some runs early.”
South Carolina took a 1-0 in the first inning off Leone when Evan Marzilli lined the second pitch of the game into left field for a double. Whit Merrifield moved him to third base with a long fly ball to center, and Jackie Bradley brought him home with a groundout to shortstop.
The Gamecocks added another run in the second inning after Thomas also led off with a double. He scored on a single by Adrian Morales, who was thrown out at second trying to advance after the throw from right-field went to the plate.
Just like clockwork, USC put up another run in the third. Marzilli drew a one-out walk and scored on Bradley’s two-out double to the left-center gap. That gives him a CWS-best nine RBIs and extended his hitting streak to 20 games.
Clemson got one run back in its half of the third with its own leadoff double by Richie Shaffer, who went to third on a groundout and scored on a passed ball by Enders.
For Bradley, everything is equal as this stage. Clemson won two-of-three in the regular season, and the Gamecocks took the first meeting in the CWS to even things up. The rubber match comes today.
“We’re both going to come out and play, start 0-0 for all we know now, either way,” Bradley said. “Either person loses, they’re going home.”
And the winner is going to the championship series.
Ray Tanner on the win, Michael Roth's performance
Michael Roth, Kyle Enders on the win
Jack Leggett on the loss