OMAHA, Neb. — The South Carolina Gamecocks are getting a reputation for being drama kings.
Adam Matthews scored in the bottom of the 13th inning Friday night after Virginia reliever Cody Winiarski botched two throws while fielding bunts, sending the defending national champions back to the College World Series finals with a 3-2 victory.
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The wild finish came after South Carolina closer Matt Price worked out of bases-loaded situations in the 10th, 12th and 13th innings.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “That game had so much involved in it. This game certainly could have gone either way, and we just kept hanging in there and we were fortunate to get a couple of breaks at the end.”
The Gamecocks (53-14) will play Florida (53-17) in an all-Southeastern Conference best-of-three final beginning Monday. Virginia (56-12) was the No. 1 national seed.
South Carolina, which has won a record 14 consecutive NCAA tournament games, recorded its sixth walkoff victory of the season and second of this year’s College World Series. The Gamecocks won last year’s championship game against UCLA in walkoff fashion.
“It really has been amazing,” Tanner said. “I admire these guys and the players we’ve had the last couple of years. And their work ethic, their desire to play, to win. They show up and go every day and we’ve been very fortunate.”
Brady Thomas led off the 13th with a single against Winiarski. Matthews came in to run and advanced when Winiarski pivoted and threw wildly trying to get him at second on Peter Mooney’s bunt. Robert Beary followed with another bunt. Winiarski tried to get Matthews at third, but his low throw got away from the third baseman, allowing the winning run to score.
“Beary had a great bunt in there and I slid in headfirst to third and the umpire motioned I was safe,” Matthews said. “I got up. I didn’t know where the ball was. Coach over there was telling me to go, go, go, so it worked out good.”
Said Winiarski: “It’s simple. They wanted to get an out (on sacrifices), and we weren’t able to capitalize on that and just take what they were giving to us. Those are plays we practice every day in practice and just didn’t execute.”
Winiarski (6-4) relieved Virginia closer Branden Kline to open the bottom of the 13th. Kline threw 107 pitches in five innings of three-hit relief.
“That was a baseball game of just a lot of emotions, a lot of gut decisions, both teams taking chances at times,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to come out on the wrong end of it.”
Kline and Price engaged in a long battle of closers. Price (7-3) allowed seven hits, walking five and striking out five. Before Friday, Price’s longest outing of the season was three innings.
Price walked David Coleman to start the top of the 13th. Colin Harrington reached on an infield single, and the bases were loaded with no outs when nobody covered first base as Christian Walker fielded Keith Werman’s bunt.
Price struck out Chris Taylor and then caught a huge break when John Barr lined out to second. Scott Wingo flipped to Mooney at shortstop, who covered the bag to double up Harrington.
“I was like, ‘Here we go again, another jam,”’ Price said. “I was trying to work through it, maybe strike the first guy out, and that’s what happened. The next guy hit a rope, and luckily it was right at Wingo and he made a heck of a play.”
Price walked Jared King to load the bases with two outs in the 10th, then struck out pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani. He allowed consecutive singles leading off the 12th, and after an intentional walk loaded the bases with one out, he got Shane Halley to ground into a double play.
Kline allowed South Carolina’s first two batters to reach base in the bottom of the 12th before retiring the next three, with right fielder Coleman making a sliding catch of Adrian Morales’ foul ball for the third out.
Virginia tied it 2-2 in the eighth. Taylor scored the tying run from second base when John Hicks’ ground ball skittered through Mooney’s legs for the Gamecocks’ second error of the inning.
Virginia starter Danny Hultzen was dominant in the three innings he pitched, striking out the first six batters he faced and eight in all. O’Connor said Hultzen, the No. 2 overall draft pick, didn’t come out for the fourth inning because he was feeling “under the weather.”
Kyle Crockett relieved Hultzen and allowed a double and single and hit a batter before Thomas’ fly ball to left that went for a two-run double when Barr lost it in the sun.
“South Carolina has got something very, very special going on right now,” O’Connor said. “It just seems like they just find a way.”