OMAHA, Neb. – The South Carolina baseball program permanently etched its name into the College World Series history book Tuesday night.
With a 5-2 victory over Florida behind the stellar pitching of junior left-hander Michael Roth, the Gamecocks won their second consecutive NCAA championship, becoming the sixth program to repeat as national title holders along with Texas, Southern Cal, Stanford, LSU and Oregon State.
“Like the (CWS) motto says, ‘History happens here,’ and that’s what we did. We made some history,” Roth said.
The Gamecocks opened TD Ameritrade Park, the $131 million downtown ballpark on the Missouri River, the same way they closed Rosenblatt Stadium, the historic “Diamond on the Hill” that housed 61 College World Series: They swept the best-of-three championship finals. Last season they finished off UCLA on June 29, while they knocked out Florida on June 28 this time around before a record crowd of 26,721 in the new ballpark.
“I couldn’t imagine this before it happened,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “It’s one of those things that you think about the odds of being able to come two years in a row and winning it back-to-back. You can’t even go there. I was hoping we could have a good year and win a regional, maybe a Super Regional, and get back to the new stadium. But it never even entered my mind that we could go back and win it again.”
The Gamecocks (55-14) also made their mark on the NCAA record book by winning their 16th consecutive tournament game, breaking the record set by Texas in 1983-84. And by winning their 11th consecutive CWS game, the final six last season and all five this season, they broke the record set first by Southern Cal in 1972-74 and duplicated by LSU in 1996-98.
“It’s not going to sink in for a while. Just playing here is an honor and winning it is an unbelievable feeling. Closing down Rosenblatt and opening up this place, I couldn’t go out a better way,” senior catcher Brady Thomas said. “This team has been through so much this year. We’ve battled injuries, and we’ve been though a lot of adversity. We’ve just persevered through it. This is a tough group of guys, and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for this team right here.”
With a 10-0 run in the national tournament -- three in the regional, two in the Super Regional and five in the CWS -- they became the first team to go unbeaten over that stretch since Miami, Fla., went 9-0 in 2001. The last team to go unbeaten in the CWS was Oregon State in 2007.
“I can’t say enough about the players and the coaches in our program. Our guys work extremely hard, they believe they can win, and they find a way to do it, even sometimes when the odds are against us,” Tanner said. “I can’t put into words the way they’ve handled this entire stage. Players win games and they did a great job between the lines.”
Roth (14-3) did what he has done all season. He piled up outs with a workhorse effort of 127 pitches, and he held the Gators (53-19) at bay by allowing just five hits and two walks over 7 2/3 innings while striking out six. He finished with an astounding 1.06 ERA over 145 innings on the season.
“You can’t say enough good things about Michael Roth,” Tanner said.
But Roth passed the credit all around.
“It’s pretty special,” Roth said. “We had the same core group of guys comes back this year to win it. It’s been amazing.”
Sophomore closer Matt Price recorded the final four outs without allowing a base runner to collect his 20th save of the season. He was no stranger to the situation. Price got the win in the 2-1 national championship victory over UCLA last season.
“Whenever we get him in the game, we feel good,” Roth said.
Thomas, Peter Mooney, and Christian Walker led the 10-hit attack with two hits each, with Mooney getting a double to start a three-run rally in the third and a solo home run, USC’s first of this CWS, in the sixth. And the defense sparkled one last time with an errorless game.
Walker, the team’s top hitter all season, personified the team’s resilience by playing the championship series with a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist.
“This was no doubt in my mind that this group of guys could do it. It was a matter of going through the grind and doing it. It couldn’t have turned out any better for us,” Walker said. “It was going to be tough to keep me out of these games. I did it for the team. I did it for the boys. They pushed me to do it.”
South Carolina got on the scoreboard first with three runs in the third inning off Florida freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-1). Mooney led off with a double into the left-field corner and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. After a walk to Evan Marzilli, Mooney scored on Scott Wingo’s sacrifice fly to right.
Whitson continued to labor by walking Jackie Bradley, and things got worse when shortstop Nolan Fontana misplayed Walker’s chopper for another run as Marzilli scored. Thomas capped the inning with an infield single that scored Bradley to give USC a 3-0 lead.
“We might not be the most talented team, but I wouldn’t play with any other people,” said Wingo, the CWS Most Outstanding Player. “We’ll straight up fight you, and for you to beat us, for somebody to take our title, they’re going to have to take it from us and just beat us. They didn’t do it. Everybody turned it up a notch. It’s awesome.”
The Gators got one run right back off Roth when Mike Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year, led off the fourth inning with his 19th home run of the season. Roth, however, responded by pitching out of first-and-second situations with no outs in both the fifth and sixth innings. Meanwhile, Mooney added his solo homer in the sixth off reliever Tommy Toledo to up the USC lead to 4-1.
Zunino doubled off Roth in the eighth and came around to score on Josh Adams’ two-out single off reliever John Taylor to cut the lead to 4-2. But Price came on to strike out pinch-hitter Tyler Thompson to end the threat.
Wingo capped USC’s scoring in the eighth with an RBI single that scored Robert Beary, who led off the inning with a single. That gave the Gamecocks a 5-2 lead.
Bradley, who battled back from his own wrist injury to be able to play in the CWS, caught the fly ball for the final out.
“It means a lot,” Bradley said. “Not many people can say they closed out a stadium and opened up a new one. Not only that, we just brought our school a second national championship and that’s special.”
Tanner looked back to his predecessors for helping the program reach this pinnacle.
“The foundation was laid by (former head coaches) June Raines and Bobby Richardson,” he said. “They put us in position to be successful, and we’ve been able to have some good things happen.”
Postgame celebration in Omaha
Ray Tanner postgame comments
Michael Roth, Scott Wingo postgame comments
Comments from Adrian Morales, Brady Thomas, Robert Beary and more
Local fans react at Colonial Life Arena
Local fans react in Five Points