One year ago tomorrow (June 13th, 2010) then-South Carolina freshman slugger Christian Walker stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning facing a 9-7 deficit and drilled a pitch from Coastal closer Austin Fleet over the left field bleachers at Myrtle Beach's BB&T Coastal Field for the game-winning three-run homerun to send the Gamecocks to Omaha where they would eventually win the College World Series.
Though the opponent - and location - were different, Walker did it again.
Walker drilled a pitch from Connecticut starter Greg Nappo over the wall in left field for a lead-off homerun in the top of the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and send the defending national champions back to Omaha. Though the Gamecocks added five more runs in their half of the ninth inning, that homerun was the deciding run in an 8-2 South Carolina win.
"I didn't really have too much time to think about," Walker said. "As anxious as I am to hit in that situation and want to be the guy up, on this team someone is going to pick you up if you don't get the job done. I believe it was a change-up. Last year I guess I got that question wrong too."
Though South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner hasn't forgotten what Walker did last year, that did not cross his mind when Walker stepped to the plate.
"It didn't (cross my mind)," Tanner said. "I was more concerned about trying to get him on base there. I told him 'you have to be aggressive; you've got to take some shots. If you pull it you have a chance.' He was able to hit it pretty good. It looked like it was going to go off the top of the wall but he got it out."
After retiring the first five batters of the game, Holmes gave up four consecutive singles - all towards the middle of the field - as UConn scored two runs in the bottom of the second to jump ahead for the second straight game. As was the case in the first game, that would be all the Huskies would manage to score. Holmes quickly settled down and finished his outing strong, leaving after 4 1/3 innings pitched, giving up just five hits and two runs with two strikeouts. From there Carolina turned to their stellar bullpen.
Jose Mata came in and quickly John Andreoli to line out to second and Scott Wingo threw back to first to get Billy Ferriter.
After Carolina tied the game at 2-2 in the top half of the sixth, Mata got George Springer to ground out to short to open the bottom half. Pitching coach Jerry Meyers decided to play the match-up game, bringing in Tyler Webb to face Mike Nemeth. Webb appeared to win the battle as Nemeth popped up a pitch behind the plate. Robert Beary appeared to be under it, but third baseman Adrian Morales called him off at the last second, but Morales couldn't get to the ball as it dropped in foul territory. On the next pitch, Nemeth singled to right to end Webb's short stint.
John Taylor came on and a single and intentional walk loaded the bases for Doug Elliot. That's when the Gamecocks made their stand. Taylor induced a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning and keep the game tied.
"The guy's have been doing it all year," Taylor said of his defense. "Coach Meyers came out and - for some reason - said this guy has a tendancy to hit it back to the mound. He said to make a clean throw to Beary and try to get out of it and fortunately we got out of it and that was a big turning point for us."
The defensive play of the game happened in that eighth inning after Walker had given the Gamecocks the lead. Carolina loaded the bases with two outs and Steven Neff at the plate. Neff sent a long fly ball to center that was destined to clear the bases, but Springer made an unbelievable over-the-shoulder catch that is sure to make the highlight reels.
"I was hoping that that catch would lead to something, and it didn't," Springer said. "I feel that it just shows the team that we have. We're going to go out and play as hard as we possibly can til the last out. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but it's okay."
The Gamecocks would add all the insurance Price needed in the ninth, putting five runs on the board. Marzilli walked, Wingo beat out a bunt, and Walker was intentionally walked to load the bases. Thomas nearly had a grand slam, but settled for a sacrifice fly that advanced everybody a base. Morales was intentionally walked to load the bases again and Williams was hit by a pitch to walk in a run. Mooney then hit a two-run double to close out the inning.
Taylor picked up his sixth win of the season and Price recorded his 18th save.
"I want to congratulate South Carolina," Penders said. "Coach Tanner and his club did a great job; they were the better team tonight. We aspire to be the kind of program they are."
South Carolina will be making its 10th appearance in the College World Series and are appearing in Omaha in consecutive season for the first time since 2002-2004 when the Gamecocks made it three years in a row. Under Tanner, Carolina has made the CWS in five of the last ten years. The Gamecocks shut down Rosenblatt Stadium with a win over UCLA and will have a chance to become the first team to win a championship at the new TD Ameritrade ballpark.
"I'm delighted to be a part of it," Tanner said. "I say this all the time, but it really is true, I don't look too far ahead or behind. I try to do what we've got to do today. I know that when I came here 15 years ago, this was a program about great people, tradition and history. It was my challenge to try to continue that. We've been very fortunate to have some opportunities to get out to Omaha. Then we had a great run last year. It's very special. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
South Carolina will face the winner of tomorrow's game between Florida State and Texas A&M Sunday.
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