USC again edges Coastal Carolina
MYRTLE BEACH -- It's been six years since South Carolina played in the College World Series. To some, its coach asserted, it's felt like a quarter-century.
No matter your point of perception, the wait is over. The Gamecocks are again part of the final eight in Omaha.
USC played from behind all day against Coastal Carolina until Christian Walker's three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning delivered a dramatic 10-9 super regional-clinching victory at sold-out, rowdy BB&T Coastal Field.
"Really, I'm at a loss for words," veteran USC coach Ray Tanner said. "We found a way. We were just one run better two days in a row."
This will mark the fourth time Tanner has taken the Gamecocks to the College World Series in his 14 years at the school.
South Carolina has been there nine times in the program's history. This is the first time back since consecutive trips in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
"Although it hasn't been that long," Tanner said, smiling, "I've been reminded quite often that it's time to get back."
The Chanticleers (55-10) have lost in the super regional round three times since 2005, but this was the first time at home.
"For me personally, Omaha has never felt as far away as it feels right this minute," longtime Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said. "It could be that 1,312 (miles), but I feel like I'm going the other direction to get there.
"Ray and them just outlasted us. That's all it is."
The Gamecocks (48-15) appeared to be on the verge of playing a deciding game today after Whit Merrifield grounded into a double play in the eighth. But outfielder Jackie Bradley drew a walk against fading Coastal closer Austin Fleet. Then third baseman Adrian Morales roped a first-pitch double into the left-field corner.
With runners on second and third, and Morales representing the tying run in a 9-7 game, Walker quickly got into an 0-2 hole.
But the Pennsylvanian, streaky in his first year at USC, belted a 1-2 slider over the stands in right-center field.
"He's a special player," Tanner said. "He certainly couldn't have come up any bigger than he did today."
It was just Walker's seventh home run of the year, despite his prodigious power potential and reputation. While in high school, he once defeated recent No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper in a home run contest.
In the on-deck circle Sunday, Tanner told Morales he had to get on base so Morales could hit his three-run homer. Prophetic.
Walker conceded that he was thinking home run when he walked to the plate, at least to some extent. Prophetic, again.
"That was definitely one of the better jogs I've taken in my life," Walker said.
Redshirt freshman Matt Price pitched a perfect ninth inning for his second save in as many days here, with shortstop Bobby Haney throwing to Walker to get the final out. The team dogpiled just in front of the mound.
Price, arguably the super regional's MVP, got out of a bases-loaded, zero-out jam in the eighth inning Saturday to help preserve a 4-3 USC victory.
Including the three runs in the eighth, South Carolina scored seven of its 10 runs Sunday with two outs.
The bats had to bail the Gamecocks out Sunday after up-and-down starter Sam Dyson lasted just 1 1/3 innings (four earned runs, 22 pitches) and no reliever (there were six) pitched more than two innings.
"This team is resilient," Bradley said. "That's the best word for it, resilient. ... Sometimes you've got to win a game 9-8 or 15-14, just get it done."
With the late rally, South Carolina moved to 5-0 in the postseason. At the time of its victory, it was one of just three undefeated teams left in the NCAAs.
Florida (5-0) is already in the CWS field. Arizona State (4-0) was a win away after a 12-inning victory Saturday against Arkansas.
"I'm not sure if we're one of the better teams in the country," Tanner said. "I know that now, on paper, we're in the top eight. I don't know that that's who we are, but we've got some good players."
The Gamecocks will play Saturday against the winner of the Oklahoma-Virginia super regional. Its deciding game will be played today.
"It's great," Bradley said. "We're finally going back. We'll see what happens when we get there."