COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Michael Roth and South Carolina picked up right where they left off a season ago.

Roth held Georgia Southern to two hits in seven innings and the defending national champion Gamecocks opened the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 victory on Friday night.

Roth was a little-known reliever last year when he got the call to start against undefeated Clemson at the College World Series with South Carolina facing elimination. The result was a complete-game, three-hit, 5-1 gem. Roth backed that up a few days later with a quality start in South Carolina’s CWS-clinching victory against UCLA.

Roth, who lowered his ERA from 1.17 to 1.10, looked every bit as strong this time around, giving up two scratch singles to Georgia Southern (36-25). The Eagles’ lone run was unearned when first baseman Christian Walker dropped a pickoff throw and let Brent Pugh score from third.

The Gamecocks (46-14) tied the game in the fourth on Brady Thomas’ sacrifice fly, then moved in front two innings later on Adrian Morales’ RBI single.

Roth and South Carolina closer Matt Price, another CWS star, made that stand up.

Price stuck out three of the five batters he faced, including Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache, the national leader with 30 home runs. Roache finished 0-for-3 and got only one ball out of the infield. Price earned his 16th save.

Roth allowed a single to Scooter Williams in the third and one to Shawn Payne in the sixth. Both runners were erased on double plays.

“I’d say I battled early on, but I got stronger as the game went on,” said Price, who improved to 12-3. “I’d say that’s kind of my year, I guess.”

The Gamecocks move on to face Stetson, the Columbia Regional’s second seed, on Saturday. Georgia Southern will meet North Carolina State with the loser going home.

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner is familiar with such nail-biters—26 of his team’s games have been decided by 3 runs or less—and he said it’s the team’s veterans like Roth, Price, Thomas and Morales who come through when it counts most.

“Whether you’re victorious or not, you’ve got the right guys there,” Tanner said. “They don’t come up great all the time, but they’ve had a lot of success.”

The matchup of Gamecocks pitchers vs. Roache was a one-sided decision for South Carolina. Roache hit a flyball out to center his first time up, walked in the fourth and grounded out to Morales at third in the seventh. Roache came up as the tying run with two out in the ninth, but was set down looking by Price.

“It might have been a great way to end it except for me and the coaches in there,” Tanner said. “If he does hit a long one, we’re still tied.”

Georgia Southern coach Rodney Hennon said his players were kept off balance throughout by Roth and the Gamecock pitchers. “Roth is hard guy to hit hard,” Hennon said.

The loss spoiled a solid effort by Eagles starter Andy Moye (7-2), who gave up just four hits in his eight innings.

Georgia Southern will try and stop a four-game NCAA tournament losing streak against the Wolfpack, who led 5-0 before falling to Stetson 8-7.

Tanner said he’ll start sophomore Colby Holmes against the Hatters with that winner getting the chance to wrap up the regional on Sunday. Tanner understands he’ll likely have to sweat out a few more tight games for South Carolina to move on. “We played some good defense at times, we’ve pitched good throughout, we’ve struggled putting runs on the board and we’ve won a lot of games,” he said. “We’re not a team that can blow you out and we’ve got to win some close ones to be effective.”