June 13, 2010

By Charles Bennett
Special to NCAA.com

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C - On a day when South Carolina and Coastal Carolina combined for 24 hits, Christian Walker delivered the only one anyone is likely to remember.

Walker's three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted South Carolina to a 10-9 victory over the fourth-seeded Chanticleers Sunday at BB&T Field to clinch an NCAA Division I Super Regional and send the Gamecocks to the College World Series.

"It was probably one of the more enjoyable trips around the bases I've ever had," said Walker, a freshman with a gift for understatement.

South Carolina (47-15), which opened the best-of-three series with a 4-3 victory over the Chanticleers on Saturday, will play the winner of the Virginia-Oklahoma Super Regional in a first-round CWS matchup in Omaha, Neb.

"I'm at a loss for words," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner. "It was two days of great baseball and two teams that didn't want to lose. Both teams, every pitch, every inning. Tremendous strategy going on, pitchers stepping up, big hits. We came up with some big ones. I'm very happy for our players that we get a chance to go to Omaha."

It was a monumental disappointment for the Chanticleers (55-10), who were hosting an NCAA Super Regional for the first time.

"I thought we had that game won," said Coastal second baseman Tommy La Stella. "To lose in that fashion is devastating for our whole program."

Coastal seemed well on its way to forcing a third and deciding game in the series, leading 9-7 heading into the bottom of the eighth.

After a leadoff walk to start the inning, the Chanticleers turned a double play, but that didn't suck the life out of the Gamecocks.

Jackie Bradley Jr. walked and Adrian Morales doubled to put runners on second and third, bringing up Walker.

"Coach Tanner told me, 'You have to get on so Christian can hit a three-run homer,'" said Morales. "I'm not joking."

Talk about great coaching.

On a 1-2 count, Walker connected with a hanging slider from Coastal reliever Austin Fleet.

The blast cleared the left field bleachers.

"I was thinking fastball and was ready for the slider," said Walker.

Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said it was simply a bad pitch.

"Austin threw one that kind of spun," he said. "He left it on the inner half of the plate and Walker murdered it. Tip your hat to that young man."

Reliever Matt Price came on for the Gamecocks in the top of the ninth and got the Chanticleers in order, allowing South Carolina to advance to Omaha.

"I give them all the credit in the world," said Gilmore. "They just keep coming at you and coming at you. They just outlasted us."

The Chanticleers didn't help their own cause, committing five errors that led to four unearned runs.

"It was probably the difference in the game, the extra outs we had to get, the extra things we had to do," Gilmore said. "It's uncharacteristic of us." But we battled all nine innings. They took the lead on one swing and you've got to tip your cap to them. You have to give credit to South Carolina. They came back and beat us."

Gilmore felt confident going into Sunday's game that the Chanticleers could bounce back.

He had staff ace Cody Wheeler (12-0) on the mound, but Wheeler was only able to give the Chanticleers 3 2/3 innings.

"We didn't have anybody who went out there and got it done," Gilmore said. "I thought if we could get five or six innings out of Wheeler and be in the lead or within a run, we would win. It just didn't happen." -30-