South Carolina on brink of College World Series elimination after 2-1 loss to Arkansas
OMAHA, Neb. – Comebacks have been a hallmark of South Carolina’s NCAA tournament domination over the past two-plus seasons. But the Gamecocks couldn’t come back Monday, as they lost 2-1 to Arkansas, putting them one loss away from leaving the College World Series earlier than they hoped.
The Gamecocks rebounded from a loss before to win a national championship, in 2010, when they lost their World Series opener. If they want to do it again this year, they must have more offensive production than they did Monday, when they managed just four hits on a relentlessly muggy night when the game-time temperature was 93 degrees, with a heat index of 99.
Arkansas got a strong performance from starting pitcher Ryne Stanek, who gave up three hits and a run in six innings, while striking out three and walking three. After throwing 91 pitches, he was replaced with closer Barrett Astin, who entered Monday with a 2.15 earned-run average, but hadn’t thrown more than 2 1/3 innings in his previous 15 appearances, dating to a four-inning start against Kentucky on April 14.
Arkansas’ pitchers retired nine straight USC batters until LB Dantzler’s two-out double in the eighth inning. That was USC’s last good chance. The next batter, No. 5 hitter Adam Matthews, grounded out to second, making USC 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position Monday. USC went down in order in the ninth, as Arkansas retired 13 of the final 14 USC batters.
The loss snapped USC’s record 22-game NCAA tournament winning streak and 12-game College World Series winning streak, both records. Entering Monday, USC was 27-1 in the NCAA tournament since the beginning of the 2010 tournament.
The Gamecocks, who are trying to become the second team to win three straight national titles, had come from behind to win 11 games during their streak. On Saturday, USC trailed Florida 2-0 after four innings and won 7-3. Monday’s deficit was far from insurmountable – 2-0 after four innings – but the Gamecocks got only a run in the fifth to answer.
They will try to stay alive Wednesday, when they play Kent State at 8 p.m. Kent State eliminated Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, in Monday’s first game. Ace pitcher Michael Roth likely will start Thursday for USC, as pitching coach Jerry Meyers said Sunday that he was comfortable throwing Roth on three of days rest for the third time in his career.
Florida, which lost Saturday to USC, is the first No. 1 seed to go 0-2 in Omaha since 2010, when USC knocked out Arizona State to start the Gamecocks’ tournament winning streak. Monday was two days shy of the two-year anniversary of USC’s last tournament loss.
Arkansas took a 1-0 lead in the first, as USC starter Colby Holmes allowed two hits, including Dominic Ficociello’s double on a 3-0 pitch with two outs, which scored a runner from third.
Holmes had been nearly unhittable in three of his past four starts, against LSU, Manhattan and Oklahoma, the latter two in the NCAA tournament. In 19 2/3 innings during those three starts, he allowed six hits and no earned runs, while striking out 15 batters and walking two. In his NCAA tournament starts, Holmes allowed two hits and zero runs in 13 innings.
Monday was his first time pitching against Arkansas this season, because he missed the trip to Fayetteville with a strained shoulder. On Sunday, he said he didn’t think Arkansas’ lack of familiarity with him this season would be an advantage for him.
It certainly didn’t appear to be. The Razorbacks got the lead-off hitter on base in all four innings against Holmes, who lasted just 3 2/3 innings and 53 pitches before he was replaced by Tyler Webb, with Arkansas leading 2-0.
Holmes had a chance to get out of the fourth, but the final batter he faced, Matt Vinson, singled on a 2-2 pitch with two outs. The hit scored Brian Anderson, who had just advanced to second on a delayed steal that USC catcher Dante Rosenberg didn’t recognize quickly enough.
Through the first four-plus innings, USC was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. USC left runners on second and third in the first inning, a runner on second in the third, and a runner on third in the fourth.
Then, in the fifth, USC took advantage of Stanek walking Chase Vergason to lead off the inning – the first time USC put the lead-off hitter on – when Evan Marzilli ripped a two-out triple on an 0-2 count. The ball flew over the head of Vinson, the centerfielder, who misjudged its flight. Vergason scored from second, cutting Arkansas’ lead to 2-1.
Monday marked the first time USC has ever played two Southeastern Conference teams in a College World Series. The Gamecocks played LSU once in 2003 and 2004 and swept Florida, two games to none, in last year’s championship series – USC’s second straight national title.
If a third straight is going to happen, USC must find a way to come back again.