Published November 20, 2014
Defending national champion South Carolina is on one of the greatest runs in NCAA tournament history, and coach Ray Tanner is afraid he'll jinx it if he talks about it.
The Gamecocks put themselves in the best possible position to return to the best-of-three finals next week with a 7-1 victory over Virginia at the College World Series on Tuesday night.
They won their 13th straight national tournament game, matching the record held by Southern California (1972-74) and LSU (1997-98). They also recorded their fifth win over a No. 1-ranked team.
Don't mention it to Tanner, though.
"I like my team, but I don't like that talk," Tanner said. "We line up and we have some good athletes, but there are teams that have better athletes and some better arms.
"Truth of the matter is we have to do things really well to win. We can't throw our gloves out. We have to pitch and play defense and get timely hitting."
The Gamecocks did all that against the Cavaliers.
Colby Holmes, John Taylor and Matt Price combined on a five-hitter. The defense turned two double plays and almost another when second baseman Scott Wingo made an amazing backhanded flip of the ball out of his glove to shortstop Peter Mooney, whose relay to first was just late.
Adrian Morales and Brady Thomas had three hits apiece, and five of the Gamecocks' 13 went for extra bases.
"We played probably one of our better games of the year tonight," Tanner said, "and we certainly needed it playing a team the quality of Virginia."
The Gamecocks (52-14) are off until Friday and would have to be beaten twice by Virginia or California to not return to the finals.
"It puts you in a good spot," center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "But we know that we're a long way from where we need to be. It's still early. We're not taking anything for granted."
No. 1 national seed Virginia (55-11) plays California in a Thursday elimination game.
Taylor (11-2) got the win with one-hit relief over a season-high 4 1-3 innings. Price came on to record the final out.
The Gamecocks had shown a flair for the dramatic in their previous two victories here. They won last year's title-clinching game on a walkoff hit in the 11th inning against UCLA, and they beat Texas A&M 5-4 with a bottom-of-the-ninth hit in their CWS opener Sunday.
This one was over early. The Gamecocks led 6-0 after Christian Walker's RBI double in the fourth inning.
Holmes held the Cavaliers hitless into the fourth inning, when John Hicks crushed a 1-0 pitch into the left-center seats for his eighth homer of the year.
Holmes matched his career high with seven strikeouts, but left in the fifth after Virginia loaded the bases on a single, walk and a misplayed ball that dropped for a hit.
Taylor relieved and induced an inning-ending double play, and the Cavaliers didn't advance anyone past first base the rest of the game.
Things unraveled for Will Roberts (11-2) quickly. Bradley and Thomas doubled in runs in the first after third baseman Steve Proscia's two-out error. The Cavaliers committed two errors in the first and three for the game.
"We've obviously disappointed in our play this evening," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "South Carolina, really, quite frankly beat us in every phase of the game. Overall, we just didn't do the fundamental things that it takes to win a college baseball game at this level."
South Carolina really got things going in the fourth and fifth innings.
Jake Williams hit a hard rising liner that barely went over 5-foot-7 second baseman Keith Werman's glove for a triple, and then Evan Marzilli sent the same type of hit over shortstop Chris Taylor for a double.
Roberts, the Cleveland Indians' fifth-round draft pick, was pulled after Walker's two-base hit down the left-field line. Roberts' 3 1-3 innings marked his shortest start of the season.
"I just didn't really have it all day," Roberts said. "I wasn't able to put people away with two strikes. I mean, I felt like it was just a battle every at-bat. Nothing really came easy, which is a credit to their hitters that's they weren't going to give in with two strikes and chase."
In the fifth, Virginia had the bases loaded with one out after shortstop Peter Mooney let Chris Taylor's fly ball drop in short left field. John Taylor, the Gamecocks' dependable submarine-style reliever, took over and got John Barr on a comebacker that he threw home to start an inning-ending double play.
"That was a big spot," Proscia said. "Their pitcher made a good pitch and they got the double play that they needed. That's what they were doing all night to us, and that's why they won."