HOOVER, Ala. – Mother knows best. At least, Michael Roth’s mother does.
After suffering consecutive losses, South Carolina’s ace junior left-hander used the advice of mom Deborah to pitch his first complete game of the season in a 7-3 win against Auburn in the opening round of the SEC tournament Wednesday at Regions Park.
Roth (11-3) pitched on five days’ rest, one fewer than normal, for the second consecutive week, but he went about his business in the same steady fashion that made him a first-team All-SEC selection.
Roth gave up three runs — all unearned, lowering his ERA to 1.17 — on six hits. He walked two and struck out two.
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“A lot of times you don’t want to listen to your parents, but I actually got a lot of stuff from my mom,” Roth said. “She was at the Alabama game, and she was like, ‘You know what, you’re working a lot slower than I like for you to work. I want you to pick up the pace.’ Looking back on it the past few games, that’s probably the best piece of advice I could have gotten. I had a quick pace out there.”
USC coach Ray Tanner, who joked that it isn’t an NCAA violation to have a mom as an additional coach, watched his top pitcher overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first inning. The Tigers collected three hits in the opening frame after an error, but they mustered three more the final eight innings. Roth retired his final 13 batters.
“Obviously, you have to be concerned if your team is going to be able to score enough runs, but I knew he’d hang in there,” Tanner said. “I didn’t expect him to throw a shutout the rest of the way. I knew he’d battle for us and give us a chance if we could throw a few runs on the board. He was a little bit better than that. It was an impressive outing.”
Auburn’s All-SEC shortstop, Casey McElroy, credited Roth for getting stronger as the game progressed.
“He just kind of settled in,” said McElroy, who went 1-for-4. “He seemed to know what balls we were squaring up. He just missed our (bat) barrel. He changed his arm slot some and his pitch selection. He was just really effective.”
Roth’s outing sent the top-ranked and top-seeded Gamecocks (45-12) into a winners’ bracket game at approximately 8:30 p.m. Thursday against Vanderbilt, which beat Georgia 10-0 in seven innings. Auburn (29-28) plays the loser in an elimination game. Freshman right-hander Forrest Koumas (6-0, 3.05 ERA) will start for USC.
Outfielders Evan Marzilli and Jake Williams led the eight-hit USC attack with a pair of hits each. Marzilli, who drilled a two-run double in the second to tie the game, reached base all four times he came to the plate, including a bunt single, hit-by-pitch and a walk. Williams’ RBI single gave USC a 4-3 lead off Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs (1-5) in the third inning.
The Gamecocks broke the game open with a pair of runs in the sixth. After a pair of hit batsmen, DeSean Anderson lined an RBI single and Peter Mooney followed with a sacrifice fly to up the lead to 7-3.
Auburn jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first with three unearned runs off Roth. An error by third baseman Adrian Morales to start the game led to Tony Caldwell’s RBI single and Kevin Patterson’s two-run double.
It appeared as if Tanner’s decision to start Roth might not work out. The coach originally planned to start Steven Neff and throw Roth in the second game, but Roth talked him out of it. Tanner trusted what Roth had to say.
“I’ve always listened to players. Sometimes you have to really evaluate what you hear. Sometimes they tell you what you want to hear and aren’t completely honest and accurate,” Tanner said. “But ever since Michael Roth has been in the program, he has been candid from day one. He tells you exactly how he feels and what’s going on with him.”
Roth figured he had eight days to rest before next week’s opening NCAA regional game.
“I wanted to start the tournament off right,” Roth said. “Not that other guys on the team can’t do it, but the first game of the tournament for us, I felt like I should have been out there.”
Even after throwing 116 pitches, Roth said his arm felt great. His changeup improved as the game went along, and he looked like the guy who won six of seven SEC starts in one stretch of the schedule.
His mother had to be proud.
Tanner, Roth, Marzilli postgame video