Omaha-Bound! Gamecocks Sweep Connecticut with 8-2 Win
June 12, 2011
Assistant Media Relations Director
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Christian Walker hit a go-ahead solo home run in the eighth inning, and South Carolina added five more insurance runs in the ninth as the Gamecocks advanced to the College World Series for the second straight year with an 8-2 victory over Connecticut on Sunday night at Carolina Stadium.
The Gamecocks (50-14) will look to defend their national championship as they make their 10th all-time appearance in the College World Series, which begins June 18 at the new TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. It will be the fifth College World Series appearance under head coach Ray Tanner. Connecticut's best season in school history comes to a close at 45-20-1 as they wrapped up their 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament as the first-ever team from New England to play in a super regional.
For the second straight year, Walker provided the eventual winning blast for Carolina as he roped a 1-0 offering from UConn starter Greg Nappo over the wall in left field to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the game at 3-2, sending the Carolina Stadium sellout crowd of 8,242 into a frenzy. It was in the eighth inning of the 2010 Super Regional against Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach that Walker hit a 2-out, 2-strike, 3-run bomb that gave Carolina a 10-9 lead and propelled the Gamecocks to victory and kept alive the eventual national championship run.
The Gamecocks still needed an insurance run in the ninth. They batted around and got five - with just two hits.
Evan Marzilli led things off with a walk, then moved to third when Scott Wingo attempted a sacrifice bunt. He beat the throw to first for a base hit, and the UConn infield misplayed the ball, allowing Marzilli to move to third. The Huskies then intentionally walked Walker to load the bases and went to the bullpen for their closer, Kevin Vance. Brady Thomas would take Vance's first offering to deep left field, scoring Marzilli on the sacrifice fly to make it 4-2 Carolina as all three runners advanced. Another intentional walk, this one to Adrian Morales, brought Jake Williams to the plate, who entered the game 6-for-11 with the bases loaded. But the second pitch to Williams hit him in the leg, bringing home Wingo to make it 5-2.
Peter Mooney, who had hit several balls hard on the night, finally got one to fall. He ripped a double to the gap in right-center, scoring Walker and Morales to give the Gamecocks a 7-2 lead. A groundout from Robert Beary one batter later brought home Williams from third to make it 8-2 and give Carolina closer Matt Price a lot of breathing room.
He needed very little, actually. A one-out single and a walk were all the Huskies managed in the ninth as Price struck out the final two batters he faced, setting off the traditional "dogpile" celebration on the Carolina Stadium pitcher's mound.
John Taylor (6-1) earned the win with 1.2 innings of relief, allowing no runs on two hits while walking and striking out one apiece; he was the pitcher of record when the Gamecocks took the lead. Colby Holmes got the start and pitched quite well, save for one bad stretch in the second inning where he gave up four straight hits. He went 4.1 innings, giving up two runs on five hits while striking out two and walking none. Price earned his 18th save of the year with two scoreless innings, striking out four. UConn starter Greg Nappo (10-3) took the loss as he gave up three runs on 10 hits in 7.1 innings.
Williams, Mooney and Beary all finished with two hits and two RBIs on the night to lead the Gamecock offensive effort. Morales also had two hits and scored a pair of runs. Wingo was the fifth Gamecock to register two hits on the night as Carolina totaled 12 as a team, equaling their best output of the postseason.
For Connecticut, the 7-8-9 hitters in their lineup were a combined 6-for-11 while the rest of the Huskies were 4-for-24 on the night. Doug Elliot, Tim Martin and Billy Ferriter each had two hits.
UConn looked like it would take the life out of the ballpark early as the Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. After the first two batters to the plate failed to reach base, UConn put together four straight hits. Nick Ahmed started with a single, then went to third as Elliot had a base hit of his own. Martin then singled to bring home Ahmed and give the Huskies a 1-0 lead, and then Ferriter ripped a base hit to center, scoring Elliot to make it 2-0.
From that point on, however, the Gamecocks managed to keep Connecticut off the scoreboard. Holmes retired the next seven batters he faced and only allowed one more hit before giving way to Jose Mata with one in the fifth Mata only faced two batters, but induced a double play and a groundout in his relief stint.
The double-play ball was quite nice to the Gamecocks as the fifth, sixth and seventh innings all ended on the twin killing. None was bigger than the bottom of the sixth, though. After Tyler Webb gave up a single to the one batter he faced, Taylor allowed another hit to Ryan Fuller that put runners at the corners with one out. An intentional walk to Ahmed loaded the bases. But the Gamecocks got what they were looking for - a one-hopper straight back to Taylor, who got the force out at home and then saw Beary fire to first to end the inning.
Carolina first got on the board in the fourth. Brady Thomas doubled with one out for the Gamecocks' second hit of the game, and then with two outs, Jake Williams ripped a double down the right-field line to bring home Thomas and put the Gamecocks on the board at 2-1.
The Gamecocks would tie the game in the sixth as Morales singled to bring up Williams again. For his second straight at-bat, he came through with a base hit to put two on with one out. After Mooney flied out to right for the second out, Beary blooped a base hit into shallow center, allowing Morales to score and tie the game at 2-2; Williams was caught between second and third to end the inning.
After Walker's blast in the eighth, the Gamecocks continued to threaten. A double by Morales and an intentional walk to Williams put two on with one out for Mooney. He hit a frozen rope toward the gap in left center, but UConn center fielder George Springer made a diving catch for the second out, forcing the runners to return. After Beary reached on a fielder's choice and the runners advanced on an error, Steven Neff hit a deep fly to center, but again Springer made a highlight-reel, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track to end the inning.
South Carolina finished its home season with a 36-4 record, its best at Carolina Stadium and the second-best under Tanner. The Gamecocks have also now won 11 consecutive postseason games, dating back to last year's College World Series, and the program has won 19 straight postseason games at home, dating back to the 2002 Super Regional vs. Miami.
The 2011 College World Series begins June 18. Information on opponents, television and game times will be announced as they become available. Stay with GamecocksOnline.com for the latest information about South Carolina Baseball as the Gamecocks prepare to defend their national championship.