GAINESVILLE, Fla. - As Tyler Thornton's pitch count began to climb in the later innings Monday afternoon, College of Charleston head coach Monte Lee and pitching coach Matt Heath huddled in the Cougars' dugout to talk strategy.
Leading by two runs, the Cougars had right-hander Michael Hanzlik and left-hander Eric Bauer ready to go in the bullpen.
Who: College of Charleston (44-17) vs. Texas Tech (43-19)
When: Friday or Saturday
As it turned out, Thornton didn't need any help.
Thornton threw a four-hitter and the Cougars did just enough offensively to beat Long Beach State, 4-2, and capture the Gainesville Regional on Monday afternoon at McKethan Stadium.
With the victory, the Cougars (44-17) advance to the super regionals for only the second time in school history. The Cougars, who faced Georgia Tech in 2006 in their only other super regional appearance, will face Texas Tech in a best-of-three series that will begin either Friday or Saturday. The site will be announced Tuesday. Texas Tech beat Miami, 4-0, on Monday to win the Miami Regional.
The winners of the eight super regionals advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Thornton, who was named regional MVP, was masterful after giving up two runs in the first inning to Long Beach State.
"In the first inning, my fastball was elevating and they put the ball in play where our guys weren't," Thornton said. "After that, I worked the ball down and got routine fly balls and ground balls."
For most of the game, Long Beach hitters found themselves behind in the count and never figured out Thornton.
"He was using both pitches for strikes," said Long Beach State first baseman Ion Patron, who had one hit against Thornton. "He was getting ahead on us, and everybody knows when you get that first strike, your batting average goes down a lot. It was like we were in defense mode the whole time."
The Cougars became just the fourth No. 4 seed to win a regional since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. Lee said the Cougars never felt slighted being the fourth seed and actually embraced their underdog role. The Cougars started the tournament with a 3-2 win over No. 1 seed Florida on Friday and then beat the No. 2 seed Dirtbags twice in three days.
Much like in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the Cougars scored early and then used their pitching and defense to close out the game. The Cougars are 30-2 this season when scoring the first run and 34-2 when leading after the six innings.
"We talk about the final nine outs, winning those last three innings," Lee said. "We feel like if we have the lead going into those final nine outs, we've got a good shot at winning."
The Cougars grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Brandon Murray walked with one out and took second on a wild pitch. Carl Wise then singled to center and Murray beat the throw from Dirtbags outfielder Colby Brenner to score from second.
Long Beach State answered in the first with two runs, one coming on Richard Prigatano's RBI double to left.
The Cougars tied the game in the third when Blake Butler doubled with one out, took third on a fielder's choice and scored on a throwing error by third baseman Michael Hill.
The Cougars added two runs in the fourth after Ryan Welke and Ben Boykin walked to start the inning and advanced a base on a wild pitch. Welke scored on Morgan Phillips' sacrifice fly to right field to give the Cougars a 3-2 advantage. Boykin would later score on a wild pitch from reliever Nick Rosetta to make it a 4-2 game.
The Dirtbags threatened in the seventh and eighth innings, but could never get a runner past second base.
"We thought about putting Hanzlik or Bauer out there in the ninth, but we felt like Tyler was still pretty strong," Lee said. "If Long Beach had gotten a runner on, then we'd have talked about going with Hanzlik or Bauer."
College of Charleston pitcher Tyler Thornton celebrates after getting the final out of a complete game 4-2 win over Long Beach State at the NCAA baseball regional tournament in Gainesville, Fla., on Monday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)×
College of Charleston's Blake Butler (16) is congratulated by Nick Pappas after Butler scored during the third inning of an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game against Long Beach State in Gainesville, Fla., Monday, June 2, 2014.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)×