USC falls just short in 4-3 loss to Sooners

In a game that stretched across the afternoon and evening at Rosenblatt Stadium, South Carolina (48-16) opened their College World Series with a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma (50-16) in a game marked by multiple weather delays. USC fell into the loser's bracket once again as they lost their seventh straight CWS opener.

Omaha, Neb. -- The lightning flashed and the rain fell, and after two long rain delays, so did the Gamecocks hopes of moving into the winner's bracket of the College World Series after a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma.

With the tying run just ninety feet away and in the midst of a ninth inning rally, Adrian Morales couldn't pull through against Sooner closer Ryan Duke, flying out to center field to finally end a wild contest in defeat for USC.

Perhaps bigger than the play on the field was the storyline of the weather on Sunday afternoon, with a game that was supposed to begin at 2 eastern facing multiple delays totaling over six hours.

"Despite the length and the conditions, it turned out to be a really good college baseball game," said Coach Ray Tanner following the game. "We battled. We had some good at-bats, (and) never came up with a really big hit. But we battled and Oklahoma did a nice job winning the ball game."

After this one finally got started, Blake Cooper faced trouble in the first inning, a frame that has been notorious for giving the Carolina ace trouble.

Chris Ellison singled to lead it off, and the Sooners used small ball from Max White to bunt him over. He would score on a Tyler Ogle single, but Cooper struck Cameron Seitzer out looking to limit the damage with runners on the corners.

Christian Walker would have an answer for the early Oklahoma offense, continuing his hot hitting with a home run to left field to get the Gamecocks on the board. It was his second straight home run after he won the Myrtle Beach Super Regional with a three-run ninth inning shot, and also snapped a scoreless streak of forty-six innings for USC in CWS openers.

Oklahoma added another run on Caleb Bushyhead's sixth home run of the year, a high fly ball that just cleared the stands in right field to give the Sooners the 2-1 advantage.

Jackie Bradley Jr. figured out the right way to channel his anger after getting picked off in the first, crushing a home run to the second deck in right to tie the game at two. His homer was his twelfth of the year, tying him with Whit Merrifield for the team lead and extending his hitting streak to a career high seventeen games.

"I saw a changeup when I was taking (the) at-bat," said Bradley Jr. on the big home run. "He was down in the count 2-0, and I was looking to be aggressive."

The Gamecocks went into the second of two rain delays trailing Oklahoma 3-2 with the Sooners coming to bat in the bottom of the sixth.

OU had put another run on the board in the fourth after Cody Reine hit a leadoff single and scored on a Bushyhead RBI single. Oklahoma again used small ball with another sacrifice bunt to move the runner over before the base hit.

It was an up and down outing for USC starter Blake Cooper, as he got off to a rough start, giving up runs in each of the first two innings, but settled in to strike out five while giving up six hits.

"I made some good pitches and they hit some good pitches," noted Cooper. "The changeup the guy hit out was right over the middle of the plate. Bad pitch. I was trying to get ahead in the count, and they came out swinging. A lot of their guys swing early."

Cooper's quality outing was cut short by the rain that delayed the game in the sixth, and ending his first College World Series start after five innings pitched. He would go on to take the loss, just his second of the season, falling to 12-2 for the year.

Both teams hit a scoreless drought going into and coming out of the second rain delay, a stoppage that lasted two hours and one minute. Neither team could push a run across in the fifth, sixth, or seventh inning, with Carolina stranding a pair of baserunners over that span.

With lightning popping, play would continue over the latter innings as USC attempted to mount a rally against two of Oklahoma's top relievers, Jeremy Erben and closer Ryan Duke.

After Michael Rocha departed following six innings pitched, Erben would hold the Gamecocks in check over the next two innings, giving up four hits but just one run. The run would come into score on a Duke walk with the bases loaded in the ninth.

Twice the Gamecocks came up just short of a big inning, loading the bases in both the eighth and ninth but getting only one run to show for it.

In the eighth, Merrifield started things off with a one out single, and after Bradley Jr. popped out in foul ground, Erben surrendered back-to-back walks to fill the bags. Brady Thomas would get a chance to come up big, but despite stinging a ball to right, it fell right into the glove of Cody Reine for the final out.

Oklahoma added a huge insurance run and what turned out to be the game winning run on Garrett Buechele's seventeenth home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth.

However, Carolina wasn't done there.

The ninth began with back-to-back singles from Kyle Enders and pinch-hitter Robert Beary.

Defensive replacement Adam Matthews came up in a big spot but fell short against Duke, failing to lay down a sacrifice bunt before striking out swinging. Evan Marzilli walked to load the bases with one out, but Whit Merrifield popped out in foul ground for the second out.

Duke didn't give Bradley Jr. anything to hit as he walked him on four pitches to bring in a run and cut the margin to 4-3.

But with the winning run standing on third base, Adrian Morales chased the first pitch he saw and popped it into center field where Ellison made the easy catch.

Despite the loss, Tanner was pleased with the rally that his team fell just short of completing.

"I thought we did a great job there at the last inning. We had some pretty good swings in there. We took some pitches. We got on base. We just failed to come up with the big RBI single or double to put us in a good position."

Rocha moved to 8-2 on the season with the win and Duke picked up his twelfth save.

Bradley Jr., Walker, and Thomas all finished with two hits, and Merrifield, Enders, and Beary came through with one hit apiece. The Gamecocks outhit the Sooners nine to seven on the inning, but still fell one run short in the only category that matters.

Oklahoma moves into the winner's bracket and will play the winner of Arizona State and Clemson, a game that was pushed back by today's delays and will start at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. USC will face the loser of that game for the right to stay in Omaha.

"Our guys, I'm pretty sure they're not ready to depart," added Tanner. "They may be a little bit weary tomorrow morning, but these guys are young. They'll bounce back. They'll be ready to go."

The Gamecocks will face the loser of the Sun Devils and Tigers on Tuesday at 4:30 EST. The game will air on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.

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