One Step Closer
COLUMBIA Given its three-day run through the regional, Carolina Stadium proved to be every bit the advantage that South Carolina was hopeful it would be.
The looming question now: Will the facility get even more use in the coming days?
The top-seeded Gamecocks scored 10 unanswered runs Sunday night to dispatch No. 2 seed Virginia Tech, 10-2, in front of 6,233 fans, giving them a three-up, three-down regional title and their first super regional berth since 2007.
'I'm very happy to be in this position right now,' USC coach Ray Tanner said. 'Our guys played well for three days. Our guys have earned the opportunity to play again.'
Yes. But where?
Coastal Carolina's two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth against the College of Charleston on Sunday night means the host Chanticleers and Cougars will play this afternoon in a winner-take-all for the Myrtle Beach Regional.
A Coastal Carolina win, and the Gamecocks will head to the beach for the weekend. Another Charleston upset, and the Gamecocks will host a best-of-three super regional for the first time in this 8,200-seat, $36.5 million ballpark.
Of course, playing at home where USC is now 30-6 this season would help the Gamecocks' chances of making it back to the College World Series.
Their last appearance in Omaha was in 2004, when they beat East Carolina in their last home super regional.
'I think being at home makes a difference,' Tanner said. 'I don't think it's automatic, by any stretch of the imagination. But certainly we've played well at home, like most teams do. ... We have great presence.'
Either way, the Gamecocks will play in the state. The Pee Dee could even become Gamecocks country.
'We may be on the road, or we may be at home for the next round,' Tanner said. 'But we're going to battle. But, if we go on the road, we'll have pretty good attendance, too.'
The Gamecocks (46-15) may have won all three games here, but it's not like it was easy for them.
They trailed Bucknell 5-1 in the middle innings Friday, rallying to win 9-5. They were behind The Citadel 4-2 in the seventh Saturday, before coming back to win 9-4. And Virginia Tech made a 2-0 lead stand up until the fifth Sunday.
In a 2-2 game in the sixth, Scott Wingo, Evan Marzilli and Whit Merrifield each delivered two-out singles Wingo and Marzilli's with two strikes, even to push across three incredibly important USC runs.
Jackie Bradley Jr. followed later in the inning with the big blast, a three-run homer to make it 8-2.
The Gamecocks were 1-10 in the game with runners in scoring position when Wingo, Marzilli and Merrifield came through against Hokies starter Mat Price (7-4).
It was the No. 9-hitting Wingo's first RBI since May 7. He'd tried a squeeze bunt on the pitch before his single. Merrifield also tried to squeeze before his hit.
Marzilli is the freshman who emerged to collect six hits and five RBIs in the series.
Adrian Morales added a homer in the seventh, his third in as many days, to make it 9-2. The Gamecocks got one more in the eighth on an error.
Morales, the regional MVP, was 2-for-20 coming into the weekend but bounced back to go 7-for-14 with three home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs.
Morales as one of the posterboys, the Gamecocks entered this regional in an offensive funk. Is it over?
'Double digits in every game in hits?' Bradley said. 'I think it's done.'
In the 2007 supers, the Gamecocks dropped the deciding game at North Carolina. The year before that, they fell in the deciding third game at Georgia.
On the road in 2008 and in 2009, USC failed to get out of the regionals.
After a two-run homer from Steve Domecus in the bottom of the first, Virginia Tech managed only singles, five of them, the rest of the way.
Sidearmer Jose Mata was the reason, mostly. He went 4 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up just two hits to get his seventh win of the year.
'For us, right now, we've got a little confidence,' Tanner said. 'We've got a little swagger going. Guys feel like they can win.
'You have to feel good about what you're doing. And our guys feel pretty good right now.'
Perhaps Virginia Tech was just naturally fading in the Midlands heat. The Hokies (40-23) had to hold off The Citadel 4-3 in Sunday's early game.
Virginia Tech, which last played in a regional 10 years ago, spent the late-night hours talking about one day being a program that could go to Omaha. South Carolina, which last played in the College World Series in 2002-2004, is trying to get back.
'It just gets us one step closer to our ultimate goal,' Mata said, 'of Omaha.'