OMAHA, Neb. Ė Arizona beat South Carolina 4-1 on Monday night to win its fourth national championship. The victory completed a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals and ended USCís hopes of becoming just the second team to win three consecutive national championships.
The difference was ninth-inning double down the left field line by Brandon Dixon, which scored Robert Refsnyder from second and put Arizona up 2-1 in a game that had been a pitchersí duel to that point. Refsnyder led off the inning by singling off USC closer Matt Price, one of the best pitchers in College World Series history.
Entering Monday, Price had allowed just one run in 24 2/3 career innings in Omaha and his 0.36 earned-run average ranked third all-time among pitchers with at least 20 innings. Price was 5-0 in the World Series before Monday Ė the record for most wins.
He was credited with all three runs Arizona scored in the ninth. Dixonís hit was probably the last pitch of Priceís career. He was immediately replaced by Tyler Webb. Price, a fourth-year junior, almost certainly will turn pro after being drafted in the seventh round by the Baltimore Orioles.
USC loaded the bases in the ninth with a single and two walks. With one out, Tanner English smacked a line drive up the middle, but second baseman Trent Gilbert snared it. Grayson Greiner popped out to right field to end the game.
Fireworks exploded behind the right field wall Ė a scene USC enjoyed the past two seasons. But on Monday, the Gamecocks could only stand on the top step of their dugout, leaning on the railing and staring at Arizonaís celebratory dog pile. For a few moments, none of them moved, as confetti fell on their shoulders.
USC set up a dramatic finish, typical of this teamís style over the past three years, by tying the game at one in the seventh after putting the leadoff hitter on base for the first time all night, on a 12-pitch walk by Christian Walker. Two batters later, with one out, Adam Matthews slapped a hit-and-run single into right field. Matthews was hitting .190 in this College World Series before Monday.
His single was just USCís second hit of the night. Fittingly, the Gamecocks didnít get a hit to tie the game. The batter after Matthews, power hitter Kyle Martin, dribbled a ground-out to the first baseman, bringing Walker home. But the Gamecocks scored only that one run in the seventh.
Arizona sophomore right-hander James Farris, who started over ace Kurt Heyer, hadnít pitched since the June 3 Regional-clinching win over Louisville, in which he threw a complete game while allowing 12 hits and three runs (two earned), with a walk and seven strikeouts.
On Monday, Farris was just as good. He lasted 7 2/3 innings and allowed four hits and one run. He walked two and struck out four, before being replaced by freshman Mathew Troupe.
In the bottom of the eighth, USC had Chase Vergason on third base after catcher Riley Moore sailed a throw into center field when Vergason was trying to steal second. Arizona coach Andy Lopez then replaced Farris with Troupe to face freshman Joey Pankake.
On a 3-2 pitch, Troupe struck out Pankake looking. Troupe pumped his fist and screamed with joy as he walked off the mound. Pankake gritted his teeth in frustration. In the dugout, USCís starting pitcher, Michael Roth, wore a blank expression, his mouth slightly agape. He had already done so much Monday, but could only watch now.
Arizona also had a chance in the eighth, when it had runners on first and third with two outs after third baseman LB Dantzler bounced a throw to first base on what wouldíve been the final out. It was just Dantzlerís fifth error of the season. But Price got the next batter to pop out on the first pitch.
In the final game of his career, Roth, the senior ace left-hander, did everything he could to sustain the Gamecocksí hopes of a third straight title.
He lasted 6 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and a run. His only walk was intentional. He struck out three batters and threw 85 pitches, 59 for strikes. He made sure USC would have a chance to win for the eighth time in his eight starts here. Roth was replaced by Price with two outs in the seventh inning. USCís fans gave him a standing ovation as he walked toward the dugout for the last time. His teammates left the dugout to join the clapping. Then Roth descended the dugout steps and disappeared from sight.
Arizona had runners on first and third at that point, but Price got the first batter he faced to pop out, ending the inning and keeping the Gamecocks in the game. They just needed their bats to cooperate.
Monday was the two-year anniversary of Rothís first start in Omaha Ė a complete game gem in an elimination game victory over Clemson. During the past three World Series, Roth established himself as an Omaha icon. Monday was his record eighth start at the World Series
Roth was throwing on three days of rest for the third time in his career. The previous two times were the championship clinchers in 2010 and 2011. Rothís 1.34 career ERA in Omaha entering Monday was sixth-best all-time among pitchers with at least 30 innings.
On Monday, he faced a hot Arizona team that was 9-0 in the tournament and hadnít lost back-to-back games since April 14-17, when the Wildcats dropped two in a row to UCLA, then lost to Arizona State. Entering Monday, Arizona was 23-5 since those three straight losses in April.
In its first nine NCAA tournament games, Arizona had out-scored its opponents 84-27 and was trying to become the second team since 2001 to go through the tournament undefeated. The other was USC last year. The Wildcats last won a national title in 1986, so they surely didnít care if they got there unblemished or not.
Roth retired 28 consecutive batters, including the final 22 of Thursdayís complete game against Kent State, before Joseph Maggiís no-out double in the third inning Monday. He advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a ground-out to second. The Wildcats led 1-0 after three innings.
It was the sixth time in seven USC games at this World Series that the Gamecocksí opponent scored first. USC won three of the previous five, but lost Sunday 5-1 after Arizona jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the fifth inning. USCís wins came after they trailed Arkansas 2-0 in the middle of the fifth, Kent State 1-0 in the middle of the second and Florida 2-0 at the end of the fourth.
Since beating Florida 7-3 in their World Series opener, the Gamecocks had scored one, four, two, three and one runs entering Mondayís game. Their hit totals: four, seven, eight, five and six.
They batted .197 in those games. The Gamecocks are not a tremendous hitting team, but they typically arenít that deficient. Their season batting average was .267 before Monday, including .246 in the NCAA tournament.
For what itís worth, USC had history on its side Monday. The Gamecocks were 15-2 in World Series elimination games and had won seven straight, including three in two days last week.
Years from now, the Gamecocks will remember this remarkable three-year stretch fondly. They had a 30-4 record in NCAA tournament games, won two national titles and finished second once. But on Monday, the only thing the surely felt was the sting of it ending sooner than they wanted.