South Carolina 2, Florida 1 (11 innings)
OMAHA, Neb. — Just when you thought South Carolina was out of magic, the Gamecocks found a little more. No, a lot more.
And now they have two chances to win another national championship.
First baseman Christian Walker, despite a broken left wrist, scored on two Florida throwing errors in the top of the 11th inning to give the Gamecocks a 2-1 victory Monday night in the first game of the best-of-3 College World Series finals at TD Ameritrade Park.
'We keep fighting,' Walker said. 'We've done it all year. Hopefully we continue to do so.'
With ace Michael Roth likely on the mound, USC (54-14) will go for its title defense tonight at 8 against Florida (53-18).
In the 11th, Walker poked a one-out single up the middle. A last-minute insert into the lineup, because of the injury, Walker stole second with a headfirst slide. SEC player of the year Mike Zunino airmailed second base from behind the plate, and the ball flew into center field.
Walker headed for third, and the throw from Bryson Smith in center was wide. It skipped once and bounced over the Gators' dugout, allowing Walker to score the go-ahead run.
'I'm almost speechless about it,' Walker said, referring to the medical team that improbably got his wrist ready to play.
USC closer Matt Price then came on for the final three outs, picking up his 19th save despite the fact he threw 95 pitches Friday night to help his team beat Virginia in 13 innings.
'He said, ‘Really, I'm good to go,'' Tanner said of his conversation with Price before the game. 'It was an important inning, so we put him in there.'
The way the Gamecocks scored and finished the game only begins to explain the incredible way in which they managed to get the game into the 11th inning.
Florida had the bases loaded and none out against USC reliever John Taylor in the ninth inning. Taylor (8-1) got Florida's Tyler Thompson to ground sharply to Scott Wingo at second, who dove, snared the ball, popped up and fired home for the first out.
Daniel Pigott then grounded hard to Wingo, who threw home for the second out — and then catcher Robert Beary fired to first base to end the inning.
'We needed to elevate the ball there,' Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. 'We probably needed to do something that inning.'
Wingo added: 'I'm out there to make plays. John got us two ground balls.'
In the 10th, Zunino singled to left with Cody Dent on second base. USC left fielder Jake Williams came up firing — and threw Dent out at home plate by a step.
'I had a weird intuition that the ball was going to come to me,' said Williams, who has a modest arm but made a terrific charge and throw to Beary.
Added Tanner: 'That was the best throw I've seen him make since I've known him.'
For a long while, it looked as if Florida starter Hudson Randall would duplicate what he did against the Gamecocks in March, when he pitched a complete game to beat USC. Randall retired 18 of 19 batters at one point, but the Gamecocks eventually got to him just a bit in the eighth.
Wingo, 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Randall in his previous at-bats, nudged a two-out single up the middle to score Peter Mooney with the tying run.
'I thought we were going to have trouble getting a baserunner,' Tanner said. 'We were handcuffed, shut down ... but we were only a run behind. You keep hanging in there.'
So was USC freshman Forrest Koumas, who held Florida to a run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings in his first outing since June 5.
South Carolina has now won three of four games here in its final at-bat, going back to its College World Series opener against Texas A&M and a 13-inning victory Friday against Virginia.
'There's a little cardio effect going on,' Tanner said.
Like the Virginia game, the Gamecocks made plays — in the field and at the plate — to leave their opponent stunned. The Gators have now lost three of four this season to USC.
'The bottom line is South Carolina is definitely the national champ for a reason,' O'Sullivan said.
The Gamecocks are a win away from saying it again.