Nothing could slow down the South Carolina baseball team in the Columbia Regional — not even a 16 hour, 34-minute delay in the championship game.
After play was suspended by rain Sunday night in the middle of the fifth inning, the Gamecocks came back Monday afternoon and finished off Liberty 6-4 to advance to a Super Regional this weekend.
Of course, nothing slows down the Gamecocks in the NCAA tournament at Carolina Stadium. With the victory, USC swept through its fourth straight regional in four years. That increased USC’s NCAA tournament home winning streak to 27 games, dating back to the 2002 season, including 16 in a row at their five-year-old ballpark.
USC coach Chad Holbrook noticed the difference in his players’ intensity as they turned the dial up with the start of postseason play.
“The energy in our dugout this weekend was unlike the energy we’ve had in our dugout all year,” Holbrook said.
South Carolina (42-18) will play North Carolina (55-9) in the Super Regional in Chapel Hill starting Friday.
USC players said they wanted to avoid having to play Liberty again Monday night.
“Anytime you’re in a regional, it’s never easy,” senior first LB Dantzler said. “If you look across the country, there’s a lot of close games, and there’s no team in the postseason that’s a slouch. Everybody has earned the right to be here. So I think it speaks to the resilience of the past four years.”
As soon as the game resumed Monday with the Gamecocks leading 4-2, South Carolina increased its lead by another two runs off Liberty reliever Blake Fulghum. Graham Saiko’s single scored Grayson Greiner, who singled and moved to second on Kyle Martin’s sacrifice. Saiko scored on Tanner English’s two-out bunt single down the first-base line.
“With how good they are offensively, I didn’t feel comfortable at all with a two-run lead. I just wanted to make it three or four if we could,” Holbrook said. “Our pitching staff has been very, very good all year long. If we score over five runs in a game, our percentage is pretty high that we’ll win.”
Sure enough, the Flames, who outhit the Gamecocks 12-9, cut the lead to 6-3 in the eighth on pinch-hitter Danny Grauer’s two-out RBI double off USC reliever Adam Westmoreland, but closer Tyler Webb came on to record a strikeout to end the threat.
Webb allowed a run in the ninth on a double, walk, passed ball, RBI groundout and infield hit, but he worked through the jam with an game-ending strikeout to pick up his 17th save.
“If we had one more hit, maybe we could have played a little bit more tonight,” Liberty coach Jim Toman said. “They know what it takes late, and they get it done.”
USC reliever Colby Holmes (5-2) got the win by tossing 11/3 shutout innings. English and Dantzler, who had two RBIs Sunday night before the rain delay to increase his team-high total to 51, led the offense with two hits each.
“We came out and did a lot of the little things right, and we really had fun playing the game. Being a No. 1 seed, there’s a lot of pressure on you to win,” English said. “There were three other really good teams in this regional, and things rolled our way this weekend.”
That ability to win at home in the NCAA tournament has USC looking ahead to its fourth straight appearance in a Super Regional. The players are counting off the victories as they move closer to making it back to the College World Series.
“Coach Holbrook told us to look at it like we had to have a five-game winning streak to get to Omaha,” English said. “After these three games, we’ve got to have a two-game winning streak now, best-case scenario. We’re going to really go hard after it this week in practice and get ready.”
Chad Holbrook postgame
USC players postgame
Jim Toman postgame
NCAA COLUMBIA REGIONAL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
... C – Grayson Greiner, South Carolina
... 1B – Kyle Martin, South Carolina
... 2B – Bryan Aanderud, Liberty
... 3B – Shane Kennedy, Clemson
... SS – Joey Pankake, South Carolina
... OF – Tanner English, South Carolina
... OF – Justin Sizemore, Liberty
... OF – Graham Saiko, South Carolina
... DH/U – Trey Wimmer, Liberty
... P – Jordan Montgomery, South Carolina
... P – Josh Richardson, Liberty
COLUMBIA REGIONAL MOP: Kyle Martin, South Carolina