Extra special crown
Hit by Royals draft pick gives Gamecocks title in final College World Series at Rosenblatt.
Farewell tears dripped all over the College World Series finale.
First, by South Carolina fans, whose unbridled joy was felt all the way to Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks completed a two-game sweep of UCLA with Tuesday’s 2-1 victory in 11 innings and captured college baseball’s championship.
The title was a first for South Carolina in a high-profile team sport, and in the process the school shed the chicken curse. More on that in a moment. Sadness also filled the air as Rosenblatt Stadium completed its 61-year mission as site of college baseball’s championship. But the venerable ballpark on a 13th Street hilltop delivered a dramatic final chapter.
Flash bulbs illuminated every UCLA pitch from the ninth inning on with fans hoping to freeze frame the blow that would bring down college baseball at Rosenblatt.
It happened in the 11th. Ninth-place hitter Scott Wingo drew a walk from Bruins relief ace Dan Klein and moved to second on a passed ball.
Evan Marzilli put down a
sacrifice bunt, moving Wingo to third.
Up came outfielder Whit Merrifield, a ninth-round selection of the Royals earlier this month. Merrifield had been hitless in four at-bats.
But he lashed a 2-0 fastball into right field, ending the game.
“When I saw they weren’t going to walk me, I just tried to get a pitch in the air,” Merrifield said. “This is unbelievable.”
Don’t know about the curse? Ask any Gamecocks faithful. Better yet, don’t. It’s too painful.
The curse explains some of the biggest heartaches in South Carolina sports history.
The 1970 basketball team was set up for a Final Four run, having the regional in Columbia. But the sixth-ranked Gamecocks were upset by North Carolina State in the ACC tournament final at a time when only the tournament champion qualified for the NCAA field.
In 1984, the South Carolina football team started 9-0 and was poised to become No.1but lost in a monumental upset to Navy.
Tuesday, the curse was over. South Carolina seemed destined. It became the first team to win six straight games in Omaha, needing to capture four straight after losing its opener in pool play.
The Gamecocks won despite leaving 13 runners on base and going zero for seven with runners in scoring position before Merriefield’s hit.
But they also got clutch pitching. Michael Roth, the relief specialist who had given South Carolina a triumph in a starting role earlier in the week, delivered five strong innings. The bullpen then tacked on six scoreless innings.
The Gamecocks finally pushed one across in the eighth with the help of some shaky UCLA defense.
Pinch hitter Brady Thomas singled up the middle, and Kyle Enders got him to second with a ground-out.
A hidden-ball-trick attempt — a college staple — failed when Thomas didn’t bite on a fake pickoff attempt. Pitcher Dan Klein had the ball in his glove when he mimed a throw to second, and the middle infielders faked an errant toss.
Thomas didn’t budge on that play, but he scurried home when Bobby Haney grounded the ball to the right of first baseman Dean Espy. Espy knocked it away into short right for an error, and the game was tied.
UCLA had a chance to go ahead in the ninth, loading the bases. But Gallego swung wildly at Matt Price’s slider for the inning-ending third strike.
For a while, it looked as if UCLA would extend the series to a third game, but the Gamecocks wouldn’t be cursed.
“This is an amazing feeling,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
South Carolina’s Christian Walker (left) tagged out Steve Rodriguez of UCLA in the fifth inning Tuesday.
UCLA’s Niko Gallego (left) was tagged out by South Carolina shortstop Bobby Haney as he tried to steal second base during the fifth inning of Tuesday’s game.