OMAHA, Neb. – Arizona leads South Carolina 4-1 after six innings in the opening game of the College World Series’ best-of-three finals.
USC finally scored in the sixth, cutting Arizona’s lead to 4-1 when Evan Marzilli’s single scored Grayson Greiner from second. But the Gamecocks could get nothing else off Arizona starter Konner Wade, as they left runners on first and second.
Wade walked a batter in the sixth, snapping a streak of 30 walk-less innings. He entered the game with a 1.38 earned-run average in the NCAA tournament. He had back-to-back complete games and three straight with at least eight innings pitched. USC’s run in the fourth ended Wade’s streak of 15 scoreless innings.
Arizona posted a run in the fifth to go up 4-0 when Johnny Field scored from third on a single. He had reached third when catcher Grayson Greiner gathered a wild pitch and tried to throw Field out as he sprinted from first to second, but Greiner’s throw sailed into center field. It was Greiner’s second error of the season and USC’s second of the game – both of which led to an unearned run. USC had just one error in five World Series games this year before Sunday.
*** Arizona went up 3-0 in the third when Alex Mejia smacked a grounder through the left side and scored a runner from second, Trent Gilbert, who originally reached to lead off the inning on a fielding error by shortstop Joey Pankake. It was his 17th error of the season, but before tonight, he had gone 24 games without one dating to April 27.
USC’s opponent has now scored first for the fifth time in six games at this World Series. The Gamecocks won three of the previous four. They trailed Arkansas 2-0 in the middle of the fifth inning, Kent State 1-0 in the middle of the second and Florida 2-0 at the end of the fourth.
USC replaced starter Forrest Koumas with freshman Evan Beal with one out in the third inning, USC down 3-0 and the bases loaded. Beal is the Gamecocks’ top reliever tonight because Tyler Webb is unavailable after throwing 71 pitches on Friday. Beal hadn’t pitched twice in the NCAA tournament, but not since June 11 in the Super Regional.
USC got out of the third when Pankake started a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded – a much-needed response to his error. Arizona got just one run in the third.
***Arizona got on the board first, when cleanup hitter Robert Refsnyder popped a two-run home run off Forrest Koumas into the USC bullpen in right field. Koumas is pitching for the first time since May 25.
Refsnyder’s home run came on a 2-2 pitch with two outs, as he hit it the opposite way, where the wind is blowing tonight, for his eighth homer of the year, and 65th and 66th runs batted-in. He leads the team in both categories – the best power hitter on a team full of them.
***So much went right for South Carolina last season as it swept through the College World Series in five games to win its second consecutive national championship. The Gamecocks became the first team since 2001 to go through the NCAA tournament undefeated.
Not that it was easy, but USC never experienced the rigors of having to go through the losers’ bracket, as it did in 2010, when it lost its first game in Omaha, then won six straight.
The Gamecocks lost their second game this year, last Monday to Arkansas, which strained their starting pitching heading into today’s 8 p.m. World Series best-of-three finals opener against Arizona. None of USC’s top three starters – Michael Roth, Colby Holmes or Jordan Montgomery – are available for tonight, so the Gamecocks will go with sophomore right-hander Forrest Koumas.
Montgomery would have been available to throw on three days of rest if he pitched as scheduled Wednesday against Kent State. But rain pushed the game to Thursday afternoon, which made Roth available to start it – a huge plus for USC. Roth threw a complete game victory, and Montgomery essentially matched it in Thursday night’s win over Arkansas.
The downside to USC winning three games in two days on Thursday and Friday is that Koumas, who hasn’t pitched since May 25, must start tonight against one of the nation’s best hitting teams. Had USC played Kent State on Wednesday, the Gamecocks’ likely starting rotation for the finals would have been simple – Montgomery tonight, Roth on Monday, Holmes on Tuesday, if a third game is necessary. All three would have been throwing on three days of rest.
Roth almost certainly will throw Monday, and Montgomery or Holmes will be the starter for Tuesday. If the Gamecocks can win tonight and get to Monday with Roth, one of the greatest pitchers in College World Series history, they would have to love their chances of becoming just the second to win three consecutive national titles.
But to reach that situation, they likely will need a strong showing from Koumas tonight. Tanner also considered starting junior lefty Nolan Belcher and freshman righty Evan Beal, but he opted for Koumas, the only one of those three players who has ever pitched in Omaha. Koumas started Game 1 of last year’s World Series finals sweep of Florida. He threw 5 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and one run.
But he was part of the starting rotation last year. This season he started just three games and missed the entire month of April with a stress fracture in his elbow. He two most recent starts – May 6 against Arkansas and May 18 against LSU – were productive, as he allowed 10 combined hits and three runs (one earned) in 9 2/3 innings, while striking out eight and walking four.
USC should have its entire bullpen available with the exception of setup reliever Tyler Webb, who threw 71 pitches in Friday’s win over Arkansas, which put USC into the finals. Beal likely will take over as USC’s primary setup man tonight.