Published June 30, 2010
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gamecocks fans took to the streets in celebration Tuesday night, blaring car horns, and even shrieking for joy after the school won its first College World Series title in Omaha, Neb.
The rare championship for a Gamecocks program — it was only the school's second in more than 100 years of athletics and the first for a men's team — capped a wildly successful season for the baseball team and sent fans used to near misses and major failures into rapturous glee.
"I've been waiting a long time for this, since birth," said 28-year-old Kevin Blalock, of Lexington.
The 2-1 win over UCLA didn't come easily.
After winning the first game of the best-of-three series 7-1 on Monday, South Carolina trailed 1-0 before tying Tuesday night's game in the eighth inning.
Gamecocks' star closer Matt Price put runners on in the ninth and 10th innings before getting strikeouts to end the jams.
The drama ended the 11th, when second baseman Scott Wingo reached on a walk, took second on a wild pitch, was sacrificed to third and raced home on outfielder Whit Merrifield's crisp single to right.
The all-Gamecock crowd at Jillian's bar began shouting before the winning hit touched the outfield grass. Fans hugged each other and broke into the singsong "Game"-''Cock" chant of celebration.
"This is one of the best feelings," said 2005 graduate Taylor Warden.
South Carolina's fan base is used to near misses. The baseball team fell just short three times — finishing as the runner-up most recently in 2002 — before winning the title Tuesday.
The football team in 1984 was 9-0 and needed only a victory against seemingly overmatched Navy to ascend to No. 1, but lost to the Midshipmen.
Only the women's track team in 2002 finished its season on top, winning the NCAA outdoor championship.
Blake Taylor, who was a star pitcher on South Carolina's 2002 team that lost to Texas, said he wanted his team to bring back the trophy, but that he was glad this year's team prevailed.
"A championship like this would mean so much to the university and that program," Taylor said. "We wish we could've given it to them, but we're glad with what's happening now."
Restaurants Tuesday night had waits of more than hour as fans flooded in wearing Gamecocks paraphernalia seeking a spot to watch with friends.
Fans planned to gather again on Wednesday at the team's stadium to watch every dramatic pitch of the final game and to cheer the ballplayers upon their return to campus.
Supporters said they hoped South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, in Omaha watching the past two games, takes something from the baseball run this fall.
"I hope this carries over to the football team," Blalock said.