Gamecock Magic continued to reign Monday night at the College World Series.
Anyone wondering what South Carolina could do to follow up its dramatic win over Virginia in Friday's bracket championship game got the answer in the Gamecocks' 2-1, 11-inning win over Florida at TD Ameritrade Park.
South Carolina worked out of its fourth bases-loaded jam in two games to send the contest into extra innings, threw out the potential winning run at the plate in the 10th and won it in the 11th when Christian Walker, playing with a broken bone in his wrist, stole second and came home on two throwing errors.
The Gamecocks have now won 10 straight games in Omaha. Four have come in walk-off fashion. Twice Monday, South Carolina was in danger of seeing Florida win in a similar way only to come up with a series of game-saving plays.
“Bottom line, South Carolina is the champ for a reason," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “They made plays when they needed to. This thing is far from over. This is a series. We're disappointed tonight, but when we come out tomorrow, we'll be ready."
If they're not, the Gators' season will end as South Carolina (54-14) took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship series. A Gamecock victory in Tuesday's second game would wrap up a second straight title, while Florida (53-18) will be battling to send the series to a decisive third game Wednesday.
Given what the Gamecocks have accomplished in their past two wins, one might assume that they'll be riding a wave of momentum into Tuesday's game. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner wouldn't quite agree.
“We're very fortunate to win tonight," he said. “We escaped a couple of situations where they had the game in hand with a hit or fly ball. We fought. We battled. We didn't give it away.
“But momentum is short-lived when you have good teams playing. If it were about momentum, we wouldn't win as much as we do because we're on the downside a lot. We win late. We keep the game in perspective. We don't let it tear us up when we're behind and just try to hang in there."
That blueprint served the Gamecocks well again Monday. Held to two hits in the first seven innings by Florida starter Hudson Randall, South Carolina scratched across a run in the eighth to tie it. The Gamecocks relied on defensive gems to bail them out of jams in the ninth and 10th, then won it in the 11th when their sore-handed star hitter wound up scoring on what was an unsuccessful hit-and-run attempt.
Walker, who broke the hamate bone in his left wrist on his final swing in Friday's win over Virginia, singled with one out in the inning. Tanner called for a hit and run on the second pitch to Adam Matthews, but the South Carolina hitter swung through a fastball from Greg Larson.
Walker had stolen three bases in six attempts this season. He slid underneath the high throw from Florida catcher Mike Zunino that sailed into center field. Walker scrambled to his feet and headed for third.
Florida center fielder Bryson Smith's throw bounced past a sliding Walker and third baseman Cody Dent. The ball went into the stands, and Walker raced home with the winning run.
“Christian's not a guy that they would expect to take off in that situation," Tanner said. “We sort of did it to (use) the element of surprise. We didn't plan on Matthews swinging through the pitch. We were hoping to maybe slash it around somewhere.
“But he got a pretty good jump. Fortunately, it wasn't a good throw and he was able to move up."
South Carolina scored the winning run in its 3-2, 13-inning win over Virginia on two throwing errors in the final inning. The Gamecocks were in position to win that game because of the three double plays they turned with the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 13th innings.
South Carolina found itself in a similar fix in the ninth. Zunino opened the inning by drawing a nine-pitch walk off reliever John Taylor, then moved to third on Brian Johnson's sharp single to right field.
Taylor intentionally walked Josh Adams to load the bases and South Carolina brought its infield in. Tyler Thompson followed with a one-hopper up the middle that Scott Wingo, the Gamecocks' second baseman, stopped with a dive.
Wingo scrambled to his feet and fired a low throw that catcher Robert Beary dug out of the dirt with a backhanded stab.
“Big pick by Beary," said Wingo, who drove in South Carolina's first run with a two-out single in the eighth. “Real big pick by Beary."
With one out, Tanner elected to keep his infield in instead of having his middle two infielders play at double-play depth with Daniel Pigott up for Florida.
“He's a really good runner," Tanner said.
Pigott hit another hard grounder right at Wingo, who started a second-to-home-to-first double play.
“Would we have been able to turn it had he been back? Well, maybe because it seemed like a tailor-made double play," Tanner said. “But he runs really well.
“You can't be close. Even if you don't get the double play, you get the out at the plate and we're still playing."
South Carolina stranded a pair of runners in its half of the 10th, then escaped the Florida half of the inning when left fielder Jake Williams cut down Dent trying to score from second on Zunino's single. Dent had opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice.
After Smith flied out, South Carolina intentionally walked dangerous Preston Tucker to face Zunino, the Gators' leading run producer with 66 RBIs. He would have had his 67th had Williams' on-line throw not beat Dent to the plate.
“I had one of those weird intuitions that the ball was going to get hit to me," Williams said. “I was just ready to make an accurate throw and try to get in it the air.
“The ball was hit to me and I got a good throw on it."
The magical way in which South Carolina keeps piling up the wins in Omaha is starting to leave the Gamecocks hard-pressed to explain their good fortune. Williams took a stab at it after South Carolina won a 15th straight NCAA tournament game.
“In close games like that, you just try to keep fighting," Williams said. “You try to make plays and get someone on and move them over, get them in. You have to do the little things in close games like that.
“Hopefully, you come out in the positive. We've been able to do that."
-- Steven Pivovar