As somebody that puts words together as a sort-of job I have reached my limit. It is impossible for me to string the words together to tell you what I just witnessed. Regardless of what happens tomorrow or (hopefully) the rest of the Series after that, today will go down as 18 of the best-played innings in the history of Carolina baseball. Jordan Montgomery, a freshman, went 8 innings and allowed no runs on three hits, striking out six while issuing just one walk, hours after a complete game two-hitter by Michael Roth. Matt Price worked the 9th inning of Game 2 for the save. Gamecock pitchers combined to face 3 hitters over the minimum 54 batters on the day, helped along by some timely double plays and runners caught stealing. I cannot seem to find the words. Unbelievable is the best I can do. Honestly, I feel honored to have been a witness to such an unbelievable performance.
Ray Tanner is seriously a dark magician
I’m starting to believe something that my Clemson friends have been telling me for a long time, that Ray Tanner has entered into some sort of deal with Satan to keep the Gamecocks’ winning ways alive. After today, I’m starting to believe it. Conventional wisdom said that Michael Roth shouldn’t have pitched against Kent State, yet the decision kept the entire bullpen in tact and allowed the Gamecocks to get a big win to even allow them the chance to play Arkansas. Then Montgomery, an unlikely choice to start in the postseason but forced in the role due to a nagging injury to Forrest Koumas, goes 8 innings with one of the most brilliant pitching performances I’ve ever seen. As a freshman. On the biggest stage in college baseball. With the exception of an ill-fated hit-and-run attempt, every button Tanner has pushed has made him look like the genius that he is. Outsiders (like me) who think they know everything about USC baseball can question his decision to pitch so-and-so or start such-and-such at DH, but the fact of the matter is Ray Tanner has a finger on the pulse of his team like no one else in college baseball.
Have a day, Gamecock pitchers
Yeah, I’ve probably talked about it ad nauseum, but let’s take one more look at the numbers from today.
- Michael Roth tied a CWS record with his 7th career start
- Michael Roth set a CWS record with 53 2/3 innings pitched
- Michael Roth retired the final 22 batters he faced, dating back to the final out of the 2nd inning
- Michael Roth pitched a complete game with two or less hits at the CWS for the first time since 1993
- Michael Roth tied a CWS record for wins with 4 (Matt Price is one of the co-leaders)
- Jordan Montgomery retired 12 consecutive batters from the 1st inning to the 5th inning
- Matt Price extended his SEC saves record, earning his 42nd in the nightcap
- Matt Price set a CWS record with his 6th game closed
- Gamecock pitching allowed 4 runs or less for the 18th consecutive CWS game dating back to a 15-11 win over Miami in 2004
And, lest we forget, the bullpen will be fully staffed tomorrow. Price should even be available. The Gamecocks could not be set up any better for a winner-take-all game tomorrow. Even if whoever Coach Tanner selects to start the game doesn’t have a stellar performance, the Gamecocks will be able to mix-and-match out of the bullpen, the importance of which cannot be overstated.
Although he’s had a bit of a rough postseason in 2012, Christian Walker is etching his name into the record books in South Carolina and NCAA history. He is now tied with Hank Small for 10th place all-time at South Carolina with 245 and is in second place all-time in hits at the College World Series with 25. He also made a huge defensive play in the 8th inning, diving to his right to snare a missile off the bat of Bo Bigham, stepping on the base, and throwing down to second base to nab Brian Anderson as he slid into the bag. Fans were angry about the interference call on him in the first inning, but his two-hit performance and stellar defensive play was absolutely masterful.
Joey Pankake’s defense
We also need to take a moment and focus on the defensive contributions of a player that I’ve spent much of the year complaining about: Joey Pankake. The freshman from Easley was exceptionally error-prone throughout the first few months of the season, but in recent weeks has come into his own at the shortstop position. Instead of making low throws to first and forcing Christian Walker to make great scoops out of the dirt, almost all of his throws are now on target. He’s making SEC-caliber plays in the hole, sliding, picking, and nabbing balls that eluded him a few short weeks ago. It’s been a really cool maturation process to witness, and it’s extremely exciting to think about what he can accomplish in years to come.
Still leaving ducks on the pond
If there’s one thing the Gamecocks can improve on from today’s game, it’s that they still seem unable to take full advantage of scoring opportunities. LB Dantzler’s baserunning blunders cost the Gamecocks at least one run, they still stranded more runners than they should, and they aren’t working the count and waiting for favorable pitches when men are on base. I think this is the biggest key to defeating Arkansas tomorrow. It will be another low-scoring game, and if the Gamecocks are able to put four or five runs on the board they can all but assure themselves of a victory.