Ex­tra spe­cial crown

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - SPORTS DAILY - By BLAIR KERKHOFF

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 bkerkhoff@kc­star.com

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

South Carolina’s Chris­tian Walker (left) tagged out Steve Ro­driguez of UCLA in the fifth in­ning Tues­day.

DAVE WEAVER | THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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