The Gamecocks are still streaking.
By knocking off top seed Florida 7-3 Saturday night to open the College World Series, the South Carolina baseball team upped its winning streak in the event to 12 games and its overall winning streak in the NCAA tournament to 22 games.
The Gamecocks (46-17), who had lost three of four meetings this season to the Gators coming into the game, picked up where they left off last season, when they swept Florida in the CWS title series at TD Ameritrade Park to claim their second straight national championship. South Carolina hasn’t lost in Omaha since the opening game of the 2010 CWS.
“We just try to play hard and play with some awareness, and some good things have happened,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “You’ve got to give our guys credit. They have been consistent.”
USC moves into Monday’s winners’ bracket to face another SEC rival in Arkansas (45-20) -- which defeated Kent State in the first game of the day -- at 9 p.m. Right-hander Colby Holmes is expected to face Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek. The Gators (47-19) fall into the losers’ bracket to face the Golden Flashes (46-19) Monday at 5 p.m.
“South Carolina beat us in every phase of the game,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They outpitched us, they obviously outhit us, and they played better defense. It’s simple as that.”
Tanner called the continuing battles between the two teams – the only ones to make the CWS each of the past three seasons -- a challenge.
“Any time you play a team like the Gators, every pitch is a big deal, and tonight was like that,” Tanner said.
Erik Payne, who got the start at designated hitter, delivered the big blow in the five-run fifth inning with a bases-loaded triple into the right-center gap off Florida left-hander Brian Johnson (8-5) to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the game at 3-2.
“Every player wants to be up there with the bases loaded,” Payne said. “You try to stay calm and focused.”
LB Dantzler followed with an RBI double to center that finished off Johnson for the night, and Chase Vergason’s run-scoring single off reliever Greg Larson capped the five-hit uprising as the Gamecocks upped the lead to 5-2.
“They had some really good at-bats that inning,” O’Sullivan said. “They did a really nice job. We weren’t able to stop them in the fifth, and that was the difference in the game.”
USC senior left-hander Michael Roth (8-1) stepped up once again in postseason play with 6 1/3 solid innings to get the win, although he gave up three runs on seven hits and three walks.
Lefty reliever Tyler Webb pitched the Gamecocks out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh when he got Johnson to line out to end the threat. Closer Matt Price pitched the final two innings for his 12th save of the season and the 42nd of his career, which sets an all-time SEC record.
Price got some help from center fielder Evan Marzilli, whose diving grab of a Daniel Pigott line drive to start the eighth inning kept the Gators from getting a rally started.
Johnson, a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox who had defeated the Gamecocks twice earlier in the season, was roughed up for eight hits in his four-plus innings, including a pair of doubles by Marzilli and a pair of singles by Christian Walker. Hits by those two juniors started the five-run rally in the fifth.
Florida cut the lead to 5-3 in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino. USC put the game away in the ninth with a pair of runs on only one hit, an inning aided by two walks, two wild pitches, and two errors.
The Gators took a 2-0 lead in the third inning when left-fielder Tanner English misplayed a line drive that sailed over his head. With two outs and runners on first and second, Preston Tucker laced a ball at English, who broke in before he realized how hard it was hit. Florida started the inning with consecutive singles by Justin Shafer and Vickash Ramjit off Roth.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, struggled to convert off Johnson in the first four innings despite plenty of opportunities. They stranded seven runners, including five in scoring position, over that stretch, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning.