One day after taking a wrong turn on the road to Omaha, the South Carolina baseball team stepped on the gas and got headed in the right direction again.
With a resounding 8-0 victory over top-seeded North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium Sunday afternoon, USC tied the NCAA Super Regional at one game apiece to set up a decisive game at 7 p.m. Monday (ESPN2).
The winner advances to the College World Series, a destination the two programs have combined to reach each of the previous seven seasons.
The Gamecocks (43-19) will attempt to make their fourth straight CWS trip with a win, while the Tar Heels (56-10) will be trying to return for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Both coaches know the momentum can shift quickly in a short series.
”We haven’t really accomplished anything or won anything,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “We are not in a position where we can feel too good about ourselves. We have nine innings to go, and hopefully we can come out with some energy and play well tomorrow.”
UNC coach Mike Fox watched his team’s dramatic walk-off win in the first game turn into Sunday’s disappointing loss, but he knows it can swing back just as quickly if the next day’s starting pitcher throws well.
“We didn’t say it (Saturday), but we knew it was just one win. They beat us in three phases of the game today handily,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We try to take it all in stride. A loss is a loss, and you have to tip your hat to South Carolina today. They just beat us. Tomorrow’s a new day, and we’ll talk about that and put it in play and play better.”
That’s what the Gamecocks did behind the sterling outing of sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-1), who turned in another lights-out postseason performance to keep the USC season alive.
“Jordan was just too good today. He was terrific,” Holbrook said. “I’ve seen him do it in high school and I’ve seen him do it in Omaha so I can’t sit up here and say I’m surprised. He’s an unflappable kid, and he was in total control. That’s a start and an outing he will never forget.”
Montgomery threw a complete-game shutout while allowing just four singles and one walk as he lowered his ERA to 1.33. Montgomery, who beat Arkansas with eight shutout innings in a CWS elimination game last season, completely handcuffed the Tar Heels.
“Obviously, the key to the game was Montgomery,” Fox said. “He was sensational for them, from the first pitch to the very last. We couldn’t get anything going.”
The USC offense, meanwhile, had its way with six Tar Heel pitchers, as it banged out eight hits and worked nine walks on the day. The Gamecocks blasted UNC starter Hobbs Johnson (4-1) with a five-run second inning. Johnson, who was drafted Saturday by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 14th round, never found a rhythm as he gave up five hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings.
“It was just terrible,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t locating balls up in the zone, and with a good-hitting team, this is what’s going to happen.”
Tanner English drove in the first run when he beat out a perfect squeeze bunt to score Max Schrock, who started the inning with a double and finished the game with three hits. The next four runs came around on Joey Pankake’s two-run double and LB Dantzler’s two-run single.
English had two hits, three stolen bases, and a spectacular diving catch in the ninth inning, The sophomore center fielder said it came down to doing everything he could to support Montgomery.
“It’s a good team win,” English said. “Jordan had one of the best games I’ve ever seen on the mound. Everybody just went out there and tried to the best they could to help him out and keep him out there as long as they could.”
Pankake, who also had two hits and a stolen base, said the Gamecocks were determined not to let the disappointing way the first game ended carry over to the second one.
“We had to wipe yesterday clean. That day’s over. That doesn’t mean anything today,” Pankake said. “We had to come out and get a win, and we fortunate enough to do it.”
USC upped the lead to 6-0 in the fourth inning when UNC reliever Reilly Hovis couldn’t find the plate. He issued four walks in the inning, with the walk to Grayson Greiner bringing in the run. The Gamecocks added two more runs in the fifth on Chase Vergason’s sacrifice fly and an error by UNC third baseman Colin Moran on a ground ball.
Montgomery took care of the rest.
“It’s always embedded in us to never give up and keep fighting,” he said. “We always hear that every day.”
Holbrook was proud of the way his team bounced back, citing its enthusiasm and passion.
“The goal was to get it to Monday. Our guys laid it on the line today, and they’re going to have to lay it on the line tomorrow because North Carolina is so dadgum good,” Holbrook said. “They’re going to be flying high, we’re going to be flying high. Emotions will be at an all-time high, and we’ll just see what happens.”
Chad Holbrook postgame
USC players postgame