The South Carolina baseball team took its first step back toward Omaha on Friday night in the opening game of its NCAA regional. Two of last season’s College World Series heroes — pitchers Michael Roth and Matt Price — made sure of that.
Roth and Price combined to record 26 of 27 outs as the Gamecocks defeated Georgia Southern 2-1 at Carolina Stadium before a crowd of 8,091.
The Gamecocks (46-14), the top seed in the regional, advance to play second seed Stetson (42-18) in the winners’ bracket tonight at 7. USC right-hander Colby Holmes (6-3, 3.60 ERA) will face Stetson right-hander Will Dorsey (7-5, 4.02).
The Eagles (36-25) will play N.C. State (34-26) in a 1 p.m. elimination game.
Roth (12-3), the All-SEC junior left-hander, pitched brilliantly over seven innings. He allowed two singles and two walks while striking out four. The run he allowed in the third inning was unearned, allowing him to lower his ERA to 1.10.
He came out after hitting the leadoff batter in the eighth, giving way to John Taylor then Price, who combined to strike out the side. Price, the dominating All-SEC righty closer, pitched 12/3 hitless innings to record his 16th save.
“When you have guys like that who have been in situations many, many times, you feel good about what’s going to happen, whether it’s victorious or not,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “You’ve got the right guys in there, and that’s all you can do. They’ve been there, and they don’t come up great all the time, but they’ve had a lot of success.”
Last summer Roth and Price combined for three of USC’s six wins in the CWS by allowing three earned runs in 26 innings. They were up to their old tricks against a Georgia Southern team that won the Southern Conference tournament.
“It’s two very different looks for your hitters,” Eagles coach Rodney Hennon said. “Roth is one of those guys who’s hard to hit hard. It’s not like (he has) eye-popping stuff, but at times he can be effectively wild out of the zone. He preys, at times, on hitters’ aggressiveness. You can’t try to do too much against him. He’s just got a great feel for pitching.
“(Price) is a power guy with his fastball. He comes right at you. We have not faced him lot, but it looked like he had pretty good command with his slider tonight along with his fastball.”
The Gamecocks took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning off Georgia Southern starter Andy Moye, who threw eight strong innings.
Christian Walker drew a one-out walk and moved to third on a single through the right side by Brady Thomas. Adrian Morales delivered the tie-breaking run by dumping a single into right.
Morales gave credit to Moye for a strong performance. The senior right-hander gave up one earned run on four hits.
“He’s a veteran. He’s experienced,” Morales said. “He was throwing right-on-right changeups, which we rarely see for strikes. He throws 92 with a hard fastball. He was just keeping us off balance. We were luckily able to get two runs to help Mike with his performance.”
Roth threw 115 pitches.
“I got a little bit stronger as the game progressed,” he said. “That’s kind of been my year. I get a little better in the late innings.”
But Tanner knew it was time to go to his bullpen. He called on Taylor, the senior reliever who got a big strikeout with a man on. But Tanner called for Price in the middle of Stryker Brown’s at-bat. Price made him look good with two more strikeouts.
“We got the call (from the bullpen). Price was hot,” Tanner said. “If he’s hot, there’s no reason to stay hot in the bullpen. Use him on the mound. He came in and was really good.”
The Eagles got on the scoreboard first with a run in the third when Brent Pugh scored from third when Walker muffed a pickoff attempt to first by Roth.
USC got the run back in the fourth without benefit of a hit. Moye hit Scott Wingo with a 0-2 pitch, and Wingo moved to third on Moye’s errant pickoff attempt. Thomas flew out to center to get the run home.
Moye (7-2), who lowered his ERA to 2.39, was disappointed that he rushed the pickoff throw.
“I was feeling good out there, just trying not to do too much and stay within myself,” he said. “Right off the bat in the first inning, I had all my pitches working. The curveball came a little later, but I had that fastball and changeup working early in the game.”
Hennon came away impressed once again by the Gamecocks, who defeated the Eagles in extra innings in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
“They are where they are at because of their pitching and their defense. They don’t do a whole lot to beat themselves,” he said.
It’s also difficult for opponents to beat the experienced duo of Roth and Price.
Postgame: Ray Tanner
Postgame: Michael Roth, Adrian Morales, Brady Thomas