USC moved to within one victory of its second straight College World Series championship Monday night with a 2-1 win in 11 innings over Florida before 25,857 fans at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. The Gamecocks can win the title Tuesday night. A Florida victory would force a deciding game Wednesday night.
Just as they did in Friday’s win over Virginia, the Gamecocks scored the winning run on a hit and run that led to a pair of throwing errors by the Florida defense. With one out in the 11th, Christian Walker, who determined during batting practice that he could play with a broken bone in his left hand, singled. On the first pitch from new Florida pitcher Greg Larson, Walker broke for second. Adam Matthews swung and missed but the throw down to second by catcher Mike Zunino was wild for an error. Walker scampered to third as centerfielder Daniel Pigott tried to throw him out. Again, the throw was wild and got past the third baseman. Walker then trotted home with the run giving the Gamecocks a 2-1 lead.
Gamecock coach Ray Tanner then summoned Matt Price from the bullpen. Price gave up a leadoff single to Brian Johnson who was sacrificed to second by Josh Adams. Price then struck out Tyler Thompson and got Pigott to ground out to short to end the game.
The Gators had taken a 1-0 lead in the third off Gamecock starter Forrest Koumas without the benefit of a hit. Thompson walked, went to second on a comebacker to the mound, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Cody Dent.
Florida starter Hudson Randall shut out the Gamecocks until the 8th retiring 17 of 18 in one stretch. But in the 8th, Peter Mooney walked, was sacrified to second by Robert Beary, and after Evan Marzilli flied out to center, he scored on a single to center by Scott Wingo.
With the game tied at 1-1, the Gamecocks relied on their defense to give themselves a chance to win. In the 9th, the Gators loaded the bases with no one out against reliever John Taylor. The Gamecocks brought the infield in and Thompson ripped a hard shot that second baseman Wingo had to dive to his right to spear. Wingo scrambled to his feet and hurled a one hopper to the plate that Beary took on the short hop for a force out. That brought the speedy Pigott to the plate and Tanner decided to leave the infield in. Pigott lashed a pitch right back at Wingo who rifled the ball to Beary for the force at home. Beary then fired to first where the throw barely beat Pigott in a play that could have gone either way.
The Gamecocks got out of that ninth inning jam only to find themselves in another one in the tenth. Dent led off with a single to right and was sacrificed to second. Taylor got Bryson Smith to fly out to right and then intentionally walked lefthanded hitting Preston Tucker to get to the righthanded hitting Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year. Zunino delivered with a hard hit single to left. Gamecock leftfielder Jake Williams, who had not had an assist all season, threw a laser to Beary at the plate who easily put the tag on the charging Dent to end the inning and set up the Gamecock heroics in the 11th.
Taylor picked up the win to improve to 8-1 and Price earned his 19th save. Reliever Nick Maronde took the loss to fall to 0-1. The Gamecocks improved to 54-14 with their 15th straight NCAA Tournament win. That matches the all time record. The NCAA previously had reported the record was 13. Florida falls to 53-18.
Tanner was undecided about his starting pitcher for Tuesday night following Monday night’s game though Michael Roth is a strong possibility. Roth, who has thrown 14.1 innings in two outings in the CWS without a decision, would be pitching on three days rest for the first time this season. Roth has a 0.63 ERA in the CWS. Florida will start righthander Karsten Whitson. He is 8-0 with a 2.43 ERA. He’s made one appearance in the CWS pitching 4.1 innings with no decision June 20th in the win over Vanderbilt. USC will be the home team Tuesday night.