Ray Tanner's Gamecocks haven't run out of unique ways to win close games.
South Carolina defeated Arkansas 3-2 -- two of those runs scoring on bases loaded walks -- Friday night to win its third elimination game in two days and advance to a third straight College World Series Finals.
The two-time defending national champions will take on Arizona with game 1 of the best-of-three series set to begin at 8 ET Sunday night on ESPN2.
The Gamecocks, who are 15-2 in Omaha in the last three seasons, have developed a reputation of simply finding a way to win, and they developed yet another way to do it Thursday night.
Senior right fielder Adam Matthews, who had already both grounded into a double play and struck out with the bases loaded, again came to the plate with the bags full in the bottom of the seventh and the game knotted at 2.
"Honestly, I better do something," Matthews says he thought to himself. "I'm never going to be able to live in Columbia again [if I don't."
Matthews got ahead in the count 3-1, but then took a strike to force it full. Arkansas closer Barrett Astin's slider spun just out of the zone as Matthews started his swing and then held it and took the fourth ball of the at-bat to put Carolina up 3-2.
"When you have two strikes on you like that, the thing is you just want to get your foot down, that way you can track the pitch a little bit better. ... I just want to get my foot down that
last pitch and see if I could see, and I saw it away and I about swung it like I did earlier in the game, and thankfully I held up."
With a lead, the Gamecocks then rode the arm of closer Matt Price, who had come in to start the seventh, to the win and a trip to the finals. Price gave up just one hit in three scoreless innings as he struck out five of the 10 batters he faced to earn his NCAA-record fifth career CWS win.
"When I came
in, [I'm] just trying to control the game and keeping my
tempo the same and just go out there and try to
get the team a win," Price said.
In the 2012 CWS Finals, teams who score first are 10-3. Those three losses? All at the hands of the Gamecocks, who would have to come back on this night too.
Colby Holmes made his second start of the 2012 CWS but again didn't last long. The junior allowed three hits and two earned runs and was taken out of the game after not recording an out in the third inning.
Much like Arkansas did in its win over Carolina Monday, the Razorbacks got their leadoff man on in the first, bunted him over and then drove him in. This time it was Matt Reynolds who singled to drive home Tim Carver and put the Razorbacks up 1-0.
Holmes worked through a 1-2-3 second but got into trouble again in the third when he hit Jake Wise to start the inning. Carver doubled to put runners at second and third and end Holmes outing.
Tanner again turned to Webb, who has been brilliant at the CWS. He got Jacob Mahan to ground out to third as both runners had to hold, but the Hogs took a 2-0 lead on a Reynolds sacrifice fly to right that Matthews went sliding on the right field line to grab.
Pitching "Coach (Jerry) Meyers and I were visiting in the wee hours of the morning
talking about this game," Tanner said. "And we just felt like for us to have a chance to win, we had to get nine innings out of Holmes, Webb, and Price, two or three apiece, and it kind of worked out that way."
Webb gave the Gamecocks four scoreless innings and allowed just two hits before handing the Game over to Price in the seventh.
Webb's third straight quality appearance in Omaha kept Carolina in it despite the early 2-0 deficit, and in the fifth the Carolina hitters finally struck against starter DJ Baxendale.
Tanner English, who has struggled at times at the CWS, led off the inning with a single up the middle. English eventually stole second despite the Hogs guessing correctly on a pitch-out.
After Chase Vergason's walk, Joey Pankake singled into left center to cut the lead in half as the speed of English beat a near perfect throw to the plate.
"I've kind of struggled early on in the College World Series," Pankake said. "But a couple
of the older guys have pulled me aside and said
keep battling, keep fighting. And I got a couple of hits to fall tonight and they were at the right time."
After an Evan Marzilli walk, Christian Walker took ball four on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded to bring home Vergason and tie the game 2-2.
That ended the night for Baxendale, who allowed just four hits in 4.1 innings but walked a career-high five batters and allowed two earned runs.
Left-hander Trend Daniel entered the game and needed just one pitch to force LB Dantzler to pop out. Colby Suggs entered the game with two outs and the bases still jammed to get Matthews to strike out on a check swing.
Suggs stayed in until the seventh when he walked Pankake and Marzilli with one out in the inning. After getting Walker to fly out to shallow right field, Arkansas turned to Astin. After a Dantzler in-field single loaded the bases, Matthews took the walk to put Carolina up.
Marzilli nearly scored on a pitch that got away from catcher Wise, but Wise chased it down and flipped to Astin covering as he tagged Marzilli out. It was one of many questionable calls from home plate umpire Perry Costello, whose strike zone was consistently criticized throughout the game.
"I would love to, but I
can't," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said, when asked if he could comment on the umpiring. "Sorry."
Tanner did not name a starter for game 1, but did mention Forrest Koumas, Evan Beal and Nolan Belcher as possibilities.
Konner Wade is expected to start for the Wildcats in game 1.
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