Beginning of the end of the line
South Carolina takes road that Arkansas had set sights on
OMAHA, Neb. -- It had to end, for either Arkansas or South Carolina -- Friday night was going to be the end of the road in the 2012 College World Series.
History will show the Gamecocks posted a 3-2 come-from-behind victory -- the 19th consecutive CWS game in which South Carolina allowed four runs or fewer. The two-time defending CWS champion Gamecocks won for the third time in two days and earned a spot opposite Arizona in the championship series. Game 1 of the best-of-three is 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.
"I thought it was a great college baseball game," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "If you like outstanding pitching and outstanding defense, I thought it was just very well played. I think South Carolina, they did a great job of manufacturing a run there late to win the game, or to get the lead to end up being the winning run.
"But I just feel bad for our players. They fought hard. It was just one of those games. It could have gone either way."
Arkansas began the CWS with back-to-back victories. Its season ended with consecutive losses, on consecutive days, to South Carolina. Since the two-bracket format was introduced in 1988, Arkansas is the 14th team to win its first two games of the tournament but fail to advance to the championship final; Clemson was the most recent, in 2010.
Coincidently, South Carolina handed Clemson back-to-back losses in the 2010 CWS. Overall, 37 teams have started the CWS 2-0 and petered out before reaching the final.
In this year's CWS, the team to score first is now 10-3. Not surprisingly, all three comeback victories have been by South Carolina: the Gamecocks fell behind Florida 2-0, yet won 7-3; South Carolina trailed Kent State 1-0 before winning 4-1; Arkansas led 2-0 on Friday night before the Gamecocks' rally.
"Very rarely do we think that we're so much better than the other team," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "Our guys have great perspective. They respect the game. They respect their opponents. And we play in a conference [the Southeastern Conference] that if you feel like you're one of the best seven or eight teams you feel like you're pretty good. And the thing that we do, and these guys deserve all the credit in the world, they just grind it out.
"You try not to let the game get the best of you, because it does," he said. "Baseball is a game that sets you back. It will humble you. It will devastate you. It will crush you if you allow it to. And we talk about that all the time: there's bad at-bats, there's a bad play, there's a bad pitch -- and if you dwell on that, it's just too hard. And you just have to let those things go and try to stay in the moment."
On Friday night, South Carolina's batters thrived in the moment; the game-tying and game-winning runs scored on bases-loaded walks. In the seventh inning, the Gamecocks scratched across the deciding run when Adam Matthews walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs.
"I was telling Coach Tanner before we came in [that] I left a small village of guys on base in Omaha," Matthews said. Entering Friday night, Matthews was 1-for-9 with runners on base, 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, 0-for-7 with two outs and had left 10 runners on base. Before his seventh-inning plate appearance, Matthews was 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position in the game.
"That's the game of baseball -- go out there [and] try to get quality at-bats," Matthews said. "[Arkansas reliver Barrett Astin] threw me some good pitches that I watched, and he threw me a good slider there at the end that I held off of, and fortunately I walked."
That was the first run yielded by Arkansas' bullpen in the past 26 innings.
"Baseball, it's tough ... and when you're playing in this league and playing teams like South Carolina every weekend and they're all so close, it can beat you down a little bit when you lose some of those games," Van Horn said. "But we held it together. And hey, a break here or there, we're playing for a national championship."
Instead, South Carolina will play for its third consecutive title.
"We've got some good players," Tanner said. "I'm not saying we don't have some good players. We have some really good players up here. But this game is hard, and if you're going to win on a consistent basis, you do have to respect it and keep it in perspective."
South Carolina is trying to become the first team to win three consecutive championships since Southern California's five in a row from 1970-74. No doubt, when faced with trying to "stay in the moment," the Gamecocks will keep that in perspective.
|1950||Rutgers||1967||Stanford||1980||Miami (Fla.)||1997||Miami (Fla.)|
|1951||Southern Cal||1968||St. John’s||1982||Texas||1998||LSU|
|1952||Penn State||1969||NYU||1984||Arizona State||1999||Stanford|
|1954||Michigan State||1970||Texas||1985||Mississippi State||2002||Clemson|
|1956||Mississippi||1971||Tulsa||1988||Wichita State||2003||Cal State Fullerton|
|1958||Holy Cross||1975||Arizona State||Cal State Fullerton||2006||Rice|
|1962||Florida State||1976||Arizona State||1989||Florida State||2007||Rice|
|1963||Missouri||1977||Southern Illinois||1992||Miami (Fla.)||2010||Clemson|
|1964||Southern Cal||1979||Texas||1995||Miami (Fla.)||2012||Arkansas|
|Note: Two-bracket format began in 1988.|