COLUMBIA — South Carolina had to wait another day to move one step closer to its fourth straight College World Series.
The Gamecocks’ NCAA tournament regional final Sunday night was suspended because of thunderstorms with USC leading Liberty 4-2 entering the bottom of the fifth inning.
The game will resume at 1:05 p.m. today on ESPNU. If USC wins, it will advance to its 11th super regional in 14 years. If Liberty wins, the teams will play again at 7 tonight in a winner-take-all game on ESPNU.
USC coach Chad Holbrook did not speak with media after Sunday’s suspension because the game was ongoing, a USC spokesman said.
It’s safe to assume he feels optimistic about his pitching situation entering today because on Sunday he only used starter Jack Wynkoop (61 pitches) and Colby Holmes (12). Every USC pitcher should be available for today except Wynkoop and Jordan Montgomery, who started Saturday.
The likeliest options to start at 1:05 are Holmes and setup reliever Adam Westmoreland.
The winner of this regional will play the winner of the Chapel Hill Regional. North Carolina, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, will play a decisive game against Florida Atlantic for that regional’s title tonight after the Owls won 3-2 Sunday. North Carolina led 2-0 and had a no-hitter with one out in the seventh inning. Then Florida Atlantic hit a three-run home run — its first hit. If North Carolina wins tonight, it will host the super regional. USC would host a super regional against Florida Atlantic, if that matchup happens.
Liberty, the Columbia Regional’s No. 3 seed, advanced to Sunday night by beating No. 2 Clemson, 3-1, Sunday afternoon, eliminating the Tigers. Liberty was 1-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament entering this weekend. The Flames have already won twice this weekend, both times over Clemson. They lost Saturday night to USC, 19-3.
The NCAA tournament’s 64-team format debuted in 1999, and since then, USC has advanced in all eight of its home regionals. Just once in those eight regionals did USC not play the highest opposing seeding — 2007, when it beat the No. 4 seed once and No. 3 twice. After Liberty knocked out Clemson, USC could try to repeat that path.
Against USC on Sunday, Liberty coach Jim Toman opted to start his closer, Ashton Perritt, for the first time this season. He threw 34 pitches to finish Sunday’s Clemson game. His longest outing of the season was five innings on April 2. Sunday night, Perritt allowed six hits and four runs in four innings, and wasn’t going to return after the weather delay. Liberty did not throw any other pitchers.
The Gamecocks stretched their lead to 4-0 in the third with three runs, all scoring with two outs. One came via a double by USC’s top hitter, LB Dantzler, who singled in a run in the first inning. In the regional’s first two games, he went 0 for 8.
Dantzler’s greatest improvement over the past three seasons, the final two at USC, is flushing failure. After all, who remembers that he went 1 for 13 in this year’s SEC-opening series at Missouri? Only nitpickers, of course, because he began this tournament with a team-best .332 batting average.
For the second straight year, USC started a freshman left-hander in the potential regional clincher — Jordan Montgomery last year, Wynkoop on Sunday. In his previous four starts, Wynkoop had a 1.42 ERA. On Sunday, he was solid, but not spectacular, allowing six hits and two runs before Holmes replaced him after he allowed a leadoff single in the fifth inning.
When the top of the fifth ended, the game was delayed at 8:32 p.m. It was finally suspended at 11:04.
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