JUST CALL HIM “Big Game” Montgomery.
The bigger the stage, the bigger the game, the bigger and better South Carolina left-hander Jordan Montgomery pitches. He did it again Friday night at Carolina Stadium, this time consistently spinning Campbell hitters around in the batter’s box in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Montgomery made few mistakes with his 116-pitch effort, allowing a pair of runs on five hits. He did not walk a batter and matched his season-high with nine strikeouts.
“I think the best decision I made all week was to give Jordan Montgomery the ball because I don’t know if we win that game tonight if Jordan’s not out there,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “He knows what pitching on the big stage and in big games in the postseason is all about, and he was terrific.”
It was exactly what the USC coaching staff, players and fans have come to expect from the 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior. And why shouldn’t they? You probably feel like you have seen this showing from Montgomery before.
As a fresh-faced freshman, Montgomery dazzled at the 2012 College World Series, shutting out Arkansas on three hits over eight innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
A season ago, he held Liberty without a run over seven innings, allowed three hits and struck out a career-high 11 in the NCAA regional opener. A week later, he extended USC’s season with a complete-game shutout of North Carolina, allowing four hits in the Super Regional.
Friday’s performance improved Montgomery’s NCAA tournament record to 5-0 and lowered his earned run average to a sterling 0.93.
USC catcher Grayson Greiner was almost ho-hum in his evaluation of Montgomery’s showing on Friday.
“Another big game. Another postseason game. And he got us another win,” said Greiner, who might as well have yawned as he spoke.
It might be easy to say Montgomery had to overcome some first-inning jitters when he allowed Campbell a pair of two-out, line drive singles. But Montgomery is too-cool a customer in big games to use nerves as an excuse.
Greiner said Montgomery did not have his best stuff early. When Campbell could not capitalize in that first inning, the Fighting Camels were in for a long evening against the Sumter product.
Montgomery did make a mistake when he elevated a fastball to Seth LaRue in the fourth inning. and the Campbell first baseman deposited it in his team’s bullpen for a home run. The run brought an end to Montgomery’s NCAA tournament streak of 272/3 shutout innings.
No matter, by then Montgomery had established that he could throw his changeup for a strike on any count to any Campbell batter.
“Whenever you throw a changeup in fastball counts, it’s hard to stay back on him,” Campbell coach Greg Goff said. “I thought he had great arm speed with it. It had a lot of deception to it.
“A lot of our guys just didn’t adjust, and they kept swinging at his arm speed. He did a good job. (His changeup) is a great pitch. It’s an above-average pitch. We haven’t probably seen anybody with that good of a changeup.”
Only a Joey Pankake error in the second inning kept Montgomery from retiring nine consecutive Campbell batters from the first inning to the fourth. After LaRue’s home run broke that streak, Montgomery sat down the next 10 batters.
If opponents are striking out and pounding balls into the ground, you know Montgomery’s changeup is working. In addition to the nine strikeouts, Montgomery induced 12 groundball outs. Only three Campbell outs were in the air.
“When I have my changeup, I’m able to go deep in the game because it makes my fastball that more efficient,” Montgomery said, “and I can throw it in and catch them guessing every now and then.”
Montgomery’s 7-5 record and 3.52 ERA represented a solid, yet not spectacular, regular season – particularly by his standards. That all changes though when he gets to the NCAA tournament, where once again on Friday he went about earning the “Big Game” Montgomery moniker.