OMAHA, Neb. -- South Carolina's magical run in this College World Series continues. The Gamecocks hope it ends tonight, with a win -- and with a national championship.
On Monday night, it was Blake Cooper's turn to churn out a storybook tale.
All Cooper, the senior right-hander starting for the second straight time here on three days' rest, did was turn in eight fantastic innings in a 7-1 South Carolina victory against UCLA before 23,181 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"Coop led the way," USC senior shortstop Bobby Haney said.
The series' second game, what could clinch a title for USC, is set for 7:30 p.m. today (TV: ESPN). It would be the school's first championship in a men's sport.
"We're not thinking about that," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. "That's too much. It's just another game for us."
If only Cooper were available for another go.
Cooper went eight-plus innings for the Gamecocks (53-16), allowing an earned run on three hits. He walked one and struck out 10.
"I thought he was extra special," Tanner said. "He was just really good."
UCLA (51-16), which had one hit through eight innings before finally knocking a couple of singles (and scoring a run) in the ninth, looked helpless against Cooper’s changing speeds all night long.
It’s the third time in Cooper’s season (and career) that he has struck out 10 batters. It’s happened twice in the postseason, including his regional gem against The Citadel.
That probably feels like forever ago for the little guy who’s started three College World Series games in eight days.
Cooper (13-2) ends his career a winner, with, on very little rest, one of the grittier performances in CWS history.
Cooper went eight innings without much on his fastball, leaning on movement and keeping UCLA’s batters guessing.
“I just wanted to do like I’ve been doing all year,” Cooper said, “and give the team a chance to win.”
Tanner actually tried to talk Cooper into waiting a day, to throw today’s second game. Cooper just shrugged it off, like he does most everything. He’s as emotionless off the field as he is tough on it.
“I encouraged Blake to take another day,” Tanner said, “but he looked at me and said ‘I’ll be as good today as I’ll be tomorrow.’”
South Carolina’s sports information guy, Andrew Kitick, ran around the press box in the bottom of the eighth inning to say all nine Gamecocks had at least one hit against the Bruins.
At that point, Cooper had allowed just one hit, period.
It seemed like that was all he was going to surrender, but Cody Regis worked hard in his at-bat to begin the ninth, singling into right field.
Cooper then fell behind, and walked, Blair Dunlap. It was his first walk of the game. Left fielder Jeff Gelalich then hit a flare into right field that dropped in between Scott Wingo and Whit Merrifield.
That was it for Cooper, after 24 outs and 136 pitches. That took him to 300 pitches in the College World Series, after throwing five innings in the first game against Oklahoma and then 5 2/3 innings in the rematch against the Sooners.
Gerrit Cole was the pitcher everyone expected to dominate, but the Gamecocks dinked him to death from the start.
The UCLA ace right-hander allowed a career-high 11 hits, laboring to go seven innings (127 pitches). Cole (11-4) is a big strikeout guy — he had 151 this season entering Monday — and yet he finished with just two against the Gamecocks.
“This guy hasn’t been touched like that all year,” UCLA coach John Savage said.
Added Cole, shell-shocked: “I don’t know what the approach was. Whatever it was, it worked.”
It took Cole 29 batters, into the sixth inning, before he even recorded his first.
“I thought their hitters did a great job of touching the ball,” Savage said, “and they were rewarded.”
The Bruins fielded at a 97 percent clip coming into the night, but the gloves let them down early and often Monday.
Errors led to unearned runs in the first and third innings, and UCLA’s mistakes prolonged innings that included additional Gamecocks runs.
USC shortstop Bobby Haney, hitting .254 entering the game, had a two-run single with two outs in the third, to make it a 5-0 game. His sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 6-0 and gave Haney a three-RBI night.
“It was clearly South Carolina’s night,” Savage said. “They deserved to win the game. They dominated us in every phase, really.”