It was a walk in the park Friday for USC.
Arkansas pitchers walked in the tying and go-ahead runs in the fifth and seventh innings, and the Gamecocks turned to ever-reliable Matt Price to preserve the advantage in a 3-2 win and advance to the College World Series finals.
“Obviously, that game could have gone either way,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “That was one of those typical SEC battles on this stage.”
Now, they’ll play for it all.
USC becomes the first team since the Southern California dynasty of the early 1970s to play for a third consecutive College World Series title. Arizona awaits the Gamecocks in Sunday’s Game 1 of a best-of-three championship series.
In all, Arkansas pitchers walked nine batters in what appeared to be a historically poor performance. However, ESPN’s pitch tracker routinely contradicted home plate umpire Perry Costello’s calls.
USC calmly worked itself out of a 2-0 hole — primarily by leaving their bats on their shoulders.
Facing Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale, Tanner English led off the fifth inning with a single up the middle and moved to second on a Chase Vergason walk. Joey Pankake singled to drive in English, then the conga line commenced.
Evan Marzilli walked to load the bases before Christian Walker took a walk to tie the game at 2.
In the seventh, Pankake and Marzilli worked one-out walks against Razorbacks reliever Colby Suggs. After Walker popped out, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn called on closer Barrett Astin to face LB Dantzler.
Dantzler’s free pass loaded the bases, setting the stage for Adam Matthews, who had suffered through a dreadful evening.
Matthews had twice come to the plate with bases loaded only to end the first and fifth innings with a double play and a strikeout. He earned a measure of redemption when Astin issued the final walk of the Razorbacks’ season.
Barred by NCAA rules from commenting on the umpire crew, Van Horn found subtle ways to share his opinion:
“I thought they (Arkansas pitchers) filled up the zone all night long,” he said.
Then on the Razorbacks’ hitters: “That’s just the way it goes. I thought they did a great job trying to battle through it.”
Price moved past teammate Michael Roth on the all-time CWS wins list (5) by holding the Razorbacks scoreless over the final three innings in relief of Tyler Webb, who had picked up the pieces after starter Colby Holmes struggled in the third inning.
“Price just did what he always did, pounding the zone ,” Arkansas leadoff hitter Tim Carver said.
The nine Arkansas walks eclipsed the eight total it had allowed in the CWS before Friday.
The Razorbacks built their 2-0 lead with solo runs in the first and third innings. Matt Reynolds was responsible for both runs with a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly.
Webb limited the damage to one run in the third inning by allowing the sacrifice fly after coming on with runners at second and third with no outs.
With Webb putting out the fire, USC went to work to rebuild their title hopes. What happened the rest of the way was typical Gamecocks baseball.
“They just grind it out and you try not to let the game get the best of you,” Tanner said. “We didn’t do very well at the beginning of this game, but we were only down by two. It could have been four or five.
“These guys just kept grinding. You’ve got to let the bad things go and get ready for some good things to happen.”