USC left-hander Michael Roth felled another giant Saturday night.
Outdueling a first-round pick for the third time this season, the junior ace helped the Gamecocks move one win from returning to the College World Series to defend their national championship.
Roth defeated Connecticut and ace Matt Barnes 5-1 before a sellout crowd of 8,242 at Carolina Stadium in the first game of the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional.
Roth, a 31st round pick of the Cleveland Indians this week, insisted he does not worry about proving himself against the big names for the opposing team.
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“I don’t need any extra motivation just to go out there and try to win us a ballgame,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and face a couple more first-rounders in Omaha.”
The Gamecocks (49-14), the No. 4 national seed, play the Huskies (45-19-1) Sunday at 7 p.m. With a win, USC would return to Omaha for the second consecutive season. If UConn wins, a deciding third game would be played Monday.
USC right-hander Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.76) will face UConn left-hander Greg Nappo (10-2, 2.55) on Sunday.
Roth (13-3) pitched 81/3 masterful innings, with the only run allowed an unearned one in the first inning. He gave up six hits while walking three and striking out two on 119 pitches, as he lowered his ERA to a staggering 1.02 over 123 innings in 17 starts.
He has not allowed more than two earned runs in any start and has allowed no earned runs in eight starts.
“I don’t pay attention to the numbers too much,” Roth said. “I just try to get out there and give my team a chance to win. I like going deep in games just because I like being out there. I like playing. I hate being on the bench.”
USC coach Ray Tanner likes having Roth in the game, too.
“He really is amazing,” Tanner said. “He continues to battle. He doesn’t pitch against the other guy. He’s just like he said. He tries to stay out there as long as he can.”
That is something Barnes (11-5) was unable to do. USC knocked the hard-throwing right-hander out of the box with a three-run fifth inning. Steven Neff started things off with a double to left and took third on an error by left fielder Billy Ferriter. Four consecutive one-out singles followed, with Scott Wingo, Christian Walker and Brady Thomas collecting RBIs.
Barnes, who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the MLB draft this week, lasted only 41/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits while throwing 97 pitches. After striking out the side in the first inning, Barnes, whose ERA jumped to 1.93 from 1.62, struggled to find his rhythm in the heat.
“I just wasn’t making pitches when I had to,” Barnes said. “That pretty much sums it up. They scored in the third and the fourth with two outs. They had nobody on with two outs and they scored. It wasn’t my best outing.”
UConn coach Jim Penders credited South Carolina for forcing Barnes out of his comfort zone.
“They were extremely disciplined at not chasing (pitches) after the first (inning),” Penders said. “They made him work. They made him get his pitch count up a little bit. They fouled a lot of tough pitches off. They did a super job offensively.”
Earlier in the season, Roth outpitched two other hard-throwing first-round picks: Kentucky’s Alex Meyer and Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray. Meyer was selected by the Washington Nationals and Gray was taken by the Oakland A’s. The Gamecocks beat both of them by 3-1 scores.
“We allowed him to settle in a little bit, and he did a good job, a really good job,” said Penders of Roth. “That’s why he’s one of the best pitchers in the country. He mixed (his pitches) really well. He got us to swing at some pitches that he wanted us to swing and kept us off-balance all night.”
The Gamecocks have won 10 postseason games in a row, the final six of last season’s CWS and four more this season after winning the Columbia regional as well as Saturday’s game. They also have won 18 consecutive home games in the postseason dating to the 2002 Super Regional against Miami.
Wingo, the senior second baseman who had two hits and two RBIs, believes the Gamecocks learned how to win at the CWS last summer.
“We were there last year, and the experience helped us a little bit,” he said. “We came to play tonight.”
Now UConn has its backs against the wall as it did in the Clemson regional, when the Huskies won four in a row.
“We just have to jump on them and put more pressure on them,” UConn first baseman Mike Nemeth said. “There were a couple of situations where we didn’t get the big out and they did.”
The Huskies got on the scoreboard first with a run off Roth. George Springer laced a two-out single to left-center and took second when center fielder Evan Marzilli bobbled the ball. He scored on Nemeth’s single to left to give UConn a 1-0 lead.
“You can’t let one inning bother you,” Roth said. “It was just one run so it’s not a big deal. I know these guys behind me are going to make the plays, and one mess up isn’t going to bother me at all.”
South Carolina answered in the third inning with a run when Wingo singled in Marzilli, who stroked a two-out double off the left-field fence. The Gamecocks took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Jake Williams worked a walk off Barnes with two outs. Williams went to third on Peter Mooney’s single and scored on a wild pitch by Barnes, who began to show signs of laboring.
“Like we’ve done for a long time, we battled,” Tanner said. “We ran the bases pretty well and had a couple of clutch hits. We just continued to compete, and Roth got some big outs for us.”
Postgame: USC coach Ray Tanner
Postgame: USC players Scott Wingo, Michael Roth, Christian Walker
Postgame: UConn coach Jim Penders
Postgame: UConn players George Springer, Matt Barnes and Mike Nemeth