Almost 19 hours after it began, South Carolina clinched its second consecutive regional title on Monday afternoon, defeating Stetson 8-2 at Carolina Stadium in a game that was delayed overnight because of severe storms in Columbia.
The Gamecocks (48-14) will advance to the NCAA Super Regional for the second consecutive year and will face the winner of Monday night’s game between Clemson and Connecticut, which is taking place at Clemson. Stetson (43-20) sees its season come to a close after battling through four tough games in the Columbia Regional.
Carolina has now won 17 consecutive postseason games at home, dating back to 2003, and has won nine straight NCAA Tournament games overall, including a six-game streak at the 2010 College World Series and a 3-0 run this week at Carolina Stadium.
John Taylor (5-1) picked up the win in relief for the Gamecocks as he went 1.2 innings, giving up one run on two hits while walking a pair. Matt Price earned his 17th save with 2.2 scoreless innings that included two strikeouts. Forrest Koumas got the start and went 4.0 innings, giving up just one run on three hits, but could not return after the game was halted Sunday night. Stetson starter Austin Perez (2-3) was charged with the loss; he gave up four runs on eight hits while walking three and striking out one in 4.1 innings of work.
The game, which began at 7 p.m. Sunday, did not conclude until mid-afternoon Monday after a severe thunderstorm nearly ripped the tarp off the infield and knocked power out to Carolina Stadium. Crews from South Carolina Electric & Gas also had to cut a fallen tree out of power lines behind the left-field bleachers where many gameday staffers and media were parked. Power was restored around 1 a.m., and the Carolina Stadium maintenance and facilities staff worked through the night to clean up debris and damage. As a result, the stadium looked no worse for wear when gates opened at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Scott Wingo and Christian Walker led the Gamecock offensive effort as both went 3-for-4 and combined to score three runs on the day. Robert Beary and Steven Neff each went 2-for-5; Beary had a triple and Neff swatted a double for his 11th extra-base hit of the year. For their efforts, Beary was named the Most Valuable Player of the Columbia Regional, and Wingo, Walker, Evan Marzilli, Adrian Morales and Michael Roth were named to the All-Tournament Team.
For Stetson, seven players had one hit apiece. Mark Jones and Mitchel Brennan accounted for two of the seven; both were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
The key to the Carolina victory was the success of their leadoff hitters. In six of the nine innings, the Gamecocks were able to get a leadoff runner on base. Five of those six times, that runner scored, accounting for five of the Gamecocks’ eight runs in the game.
It took Carolina all of two pitches to find its way on the scoreboard. On the second pitch of the game, Marzilli ripped the 0-1 offering into the right-field bullpen for a leadoff home run to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead.
However, Stetson would answer in its half of the first. A leadoff single by Jeff Simpson, followed by a sacrifice bunt, another single and then a sacrifice fly from Nick Rickles scored Simpson to tie the game at 1-1. From that point on, however, Koumas allowed just one hit through the next three innings while striking out three.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were padding their lead. A leadoff triple from Beary in the third led to another run as he scored on a sacrifice fly from Marzilli to give the Gamecocks the lead back at 2-1. Wingo and Walker would then record back-to-back singles to give the Gamecocks runners at the corners with two out, but they were stranded there.
In the fourth, a leadoff walk to Morales led to another run as Williams sacrificed him to second and a base hit from Beary brought him around to make the score 3-1. Steven Neff would then rip his 11th extra-base hit of the season to put runners at second and third, but again they would be stranded as a groundout ended the inning.
For the fourth time in five innings, the leadoff runner reached in the fifth when Wingo singled for the second time in the game. Another single by Walker put two on with no out, and a sacrifice bunt from Brady Thomas moved them to second and third. After an intentional walk to Morales loaded the bases with one out, Williams hit a deep fly to right that brought home Wingo to put the Gamecocks ahead 4-1. Another walk to Mooney loaded the bases just before the game was halted at 8:24 p.m.
Neither team could do much after the restart until the Hatters put together several great at-bats in the seventh. Back-to-back singles from Trey Blackman and Sean Emory, followed by a sacrifice bunt from Brennan, put runners at second and third with one out. A walk to Simpson loaded the bases for the Hatters, leading to Price getting the call to grind out the final eight outs. And grind he did – after a long at-bat, Robert Crews reached on an error and all runners advanced to bring Stetson to within a pair at 4-2, moving the tying run to second. But Price was able to fight through two more tough at-bats and induce a flyout to right – whereupon Jake Williams fired a strike to home plate to force the runner to hold at third base – and a sharp groundout to Wingo to end the inning.
After coming away empty in the eighth, the Gamecocks doubled their offensive output in the ninth. Another leadoff single for Wingo, followed by a hit-and-run from Walker, put runners at the corners with no out. Following a Brady Thomas strikeout, Stetson elected to intentionally walk Morales for the second time in the game (his third walk overall). Exactly like in the fifth inning, Williams hit a deep fly ball to bring home Wingo and give the Gamecocks a 5-2 lead. But unlike the fifth, Mooney followed up with a base hit to bring home Walker from second to make the score 6-2. Then, with two runners still aboard, Beary roped a fly ball to deep center field that the Stetson outfielder could not haul in, leading to a two-base, two-run error to increase the Gamecocks’ lead to 8-2.
After that, it was all but academic for Price, despite giving up a pair of singles in the ninth. He got a groundout, a strikeout and a flyout to end the ballgame and send Carolina back to the Super Regional.
(Ray Tanner, Matt Price, Scott Wingo, Robert Beary)
The NCAA will announce dates, sites, times and television information for next week’s Super Regionals at midnight ET tonight. Information will be posted on GamecocksOnline.com and on Twitter (@GamecockBasebll) as soon as it becomes available. Stay with GamecocksOnline.com for all the latest information about South Carolina baseball and next week’s NCAA Super Regional.