OMAHA, Neb. – Mistakes and the inability to capitalize in key moments are what separate championship-winning teams from the also-rans.
On Sunday night, two-time defending champion South Carolina had its share of mistakes and ultimately the Gamecocks’ inability to close out innings proved to be the difference in a 5-1 loss to Arizona in Game 1 of the College World Series Championship Series.
“Our pitching staff did a pretty good job,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “I think it was [three] earned runs on the night. We kept hanging around, turned a couple of double plays to stay out of too much trouble, but we were never able to do anything offensively. And you gotta give [Arizona starting pitcher] Konner Wade credit for that. He was outstanding.”
However, Sunday night was the 10th game in which South Carolina committed two or more errors in a game, the first time since June 11 against Oklahoma in the Super Regional. And ultimately both miscues played into Arizona scoring.
With two out in the bottom of the first inning, South Carolina starting pitcher Forrest Koumas could not close out the Wildcats, yielding a two-strike, two-run home run to Robert Refsnyder. However, Koumas retired the next batter, Seth Mejias-Brean, to end the inning with the Gamecocks trailing 2-0.
In the bottom of the third inning, South Carolina’s Joey Pankake booted a ground ball by Trent Gilbert to start the frame. A base hit by Joey Rickard put Arizona runners at first and second before Koumas fielded a popped-up bunt attempt by Johnny Field for the first out.
Alex Mejia singled to score Gilbert before Refsnyder was intentionally walked, ending Koumas’ night. South Carolina reliever Evan Beal then induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of Mejias-Brean as the Gamecocks trailed 3-0.
“Evan did a great job battling when he went out there,” Tanner said. “Five innings, one earned run when he was out there. So the results are really good. I know he had three or four walks but he competed for us. He kept us in that thing. We were able to turn a couple of double plays behind him to keep it going. And because he battled hard for us, gave us a chance to come back.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Rickard struck out before Field earned a walk. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and chugged into third as South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner made an errant throw to second base.
With Field on third, Mejia grounded out to short but the drawn-in infield defense prevented Field from advancing. At least for the moment. … With two out, Refsnyder again walked ahead of a single by Mejias-Brean to plate Field for a 4-0 lead. Beal retired the next batter, Bobby Brown, but again not before the Wildcats had done their damage.
“It’s the best-of-three game series for a reason,” Greiner said. “We have to come out and fight [Monday]. We were in the same situation a few days ago. They’ve got to beat us twice to win the championship and the best team will have to win two games.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Mejia flied out before Refsnyder singled and moved to second on a ground out by Mejias-Brean. With two out, Brown singled to score Refsnyder. True to form, South Carolina retired the next batter, as Beal struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Dixon with Arizona ahead 5-1.
“Arizona’s real good team,” Beal said. “They can swing it, as you can see. But I don’t think it’s anything really insurmountable to go out there and at least force the Game 3. It’s going to be tough. But we gotta get back on our game [Monday] and we gotta get some runs.”
Against Wade, that was tough sledding on Sunday night. Wade held South Carolina in check for nine innings, limiting the Gamecocks to 2-for-14 with runners on base; 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position; and 1-for-10 with two outs.
Conversely, Arizona hit .400 across the board: 8-for-20 with runners on base; 6-for-15 with runners in scoring position; and 4-for-10 with two outs.
Game 2 is 7 p.m. ET Monday (ESPN). With the Gamecocks on the brink of elimination, South Carolina’s Evan Marzilli remains steadfast in his approach. “You gotta go up there, gotta take one pitch at a time — can’t get ahead of yourself.
“They did a great job [Sunday]. But tomorrow’s a new day. So we have to come out [Monday] and pretend like nothing ever happened and go out and hopefully get a win.”