It’s a do-or-die situation for the Gamecocks tonight as they take on Arizona in Game 2 of the College World Series Finals. Lose, and Arizona will dogpile near the pitcher’s mound as this year’s national champion. Win, and the series will come down to a deciding Game 3 24 hours from now. Here are some key points on tonight’s elimination game for South Carolina.
Arizona ain’t starting their best guy
There’s an old baseball adage that says: “You don’t lose today to win tomorrow.” With a national title on the line and both teams’ ace pitchers well-rested, that tonight would be the opportune night to throw both. Ray Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers will go with Michael Roth tonight, but Arizona will counter with the team’s number three starter in sophomore James Farris. Now make no mistake, Farris is no slouch. He has 16 starts on the year, including three complete games. He has a 4.18 ERA and has allowed 106 hits and only 18 walks in 99 innings of work while striking out 69. He’s 7-3 on the year. You certainly want to see more strikeouts per inning, but his walk numbers are phenomenal. South Carolina batters will be able to get some hits off of him (he’s given up 106 this season), but based on his numbers he seems to be a guy that pounds the strike zone. An extremely patient plate approach probably won’t be the best solution tonight, since he’s given up so few walks on the season. But the Gamecocks still need to work deep into the count as much as possible and try to chase him in the middle innings. This seems very possible, since Farris hasn’t seen the mound since a June 3 appearance against Louisville that clinched the Tucson Regional for the Wildcats. Certainly Farris will be rested, but he may also be quite rusty. You still feel better about the Gamecocks’ chances if they can score a few on Farris and then get to the Wildcats’ relief corps. South Carolina’s hitters should be able to have success off of Arizona’s bullpen in this series. They just have to get to them first.
If Carolina does win, watch out
In my opinion, Arizona is making a mistake by saving ace Kurt Heyer for a potential Game 3 matchup. Arkansas learned on Thursday and Friday that you don’t want to mess around with a motivated Gamecock team that has momentum on its side. I think the Gamecocks will come out determined tonight, knowing that Arizona coach Andy Lopez hasn’t chosen to throw Arizona’s best hurler. Jordan Montgomery should be ready to throw Tuesday night if needed against Heyer. I don’t know that the Gamecocks can win two games in a row against the Wildcats. But I do know that this bunch of defiant, scrappy players will come out determined to show Arizona that it cannot afford to take them lightly tonight.
Michael Roth needs to be careful
Something that really stuck out to me last night about Arizona’s hitters were that they were patient at the plate and took outside pitches the opposite way. Michael Roth loves to get hitters to chase “junk pitches” and force them into unfavorable counts without throwing any “fat” pitches. He loves to paint the outside corners to both left- and right-handed hitters, but Arizona’s batters seemed content to sit back and take pitches the opposite way. That’s the approach LSU used to beat Roth earlier this season, and seems like it could work again tonight. The Gamecock defense will have to be rock solid behind him, because Arizona will put the ball in play. Roth needs to effectively pitch out of trouble tonight and keep Arizona to well under five runs in order to give the Gamecock bats a chance to score enough runs.
Don’t expect another complete game two-hitter from Roth tonight. Arizona will see a lot of pitches, force Roth to throw over the plate instead of living on the corners, and test the Gamecock defense. South Carolina won’t hold anything back–expect to see Webb and Price if Roth gets into trouble. The Gamecocks will be able to score a few runs on Arizona’s Farris, but the Wildcats’ plate approach sets up well against Roth. Don’t expect to see a four-run margin tonight. I think South Carolina can earn a victory to push this series to three games, but it will be a low-scoring, high-pressure contest regardless of who wins. My gut tells me that Arizona’s hitters will get to Roth, but my heart just can’t pick against the Gamecocks’ senior emotional leader making his final collegiate appearance. This one is a toss-up in my mind. May the best team win.