South Carolina started its bid for the 2011 national title Sunday night in the same dramatic fashion that it capped its drive to the 2010 title.
Scott Wingo, who scored the championship run on the final play of last season, produced the first College World Series walk-off win at TD Ameritrade Park. He drove a bases-loaded single off the base of the right-field wall to give South Carolina a 5-4 victory over Texas A&M.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Scott Wingo’s single off the right-field wall won it, but it was Robert Beary’s double to start the South Carolina ninth inning that set up all of the drama. Beary’s hit also went off the right-field wall, and the Gamecocks catcher originally appeared intent on winding up on third. “I thought I had third,’’ he said, “but I didn’t want to make the first out at third.’’
Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1 for 4 in his first game since he injured his wrist in an April 23 game against Mississippi State. Bradley said after the game he’s feeling fine. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner originally intended to bat Bradley second in the lineup but dropped him into the No. 9 hole, saying he didn’t want to put too much pressure on the center fielder.
Same old South Carolina. The Gamecocks battled their way to a championship last season by scraping and clawing their way through four elimination games. This is a team that expects to win when the pressure is on, and the Gamecocks showed it again on Sunday.
THEY SAID IT
“It’s great to be back out there and just be able to help my team win. I’m glad to get back. I feel good and I’m getting more relaxed up there in each at-bat.’’ — South Carolina’s Jackie Bradley Jr. on his return after missing 26 games.
“It feels good to have the last walk-off in Rosenblatt and the first one in the new stadium,'' South Carolina pitcher Michael Roth said. “That's pretty special, but I don't think it would be South Carolina baseball if we didn't give up a couple of runs in the first inning.''
Roth gave up four unearned ones as the Aggies took the lead before many of the 23,395 fans had settled into their seats at Omaha's new downtown stadium. The Gamecocks countered with four of their own in their half of the first, also taking advantage of an error as well as a bases-loaded balk by Texas A&M starter Ross Stripling.
After that, Roth, with help from relievers John Taylor and Matt Price, and Stripling settled into a duel that left the game tied at 4 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Kyle Martin took over for Stripling to start the inning and surrendered a Robert Beary double. Beary had some special incentive to come through with a hit.
“Before I went up there to hit,'' Beary said, “I told myself I had to hit one for my father.''
Kevin Beary has been in Afghanistan since December, helping set up a police program in Kabul. Beary said he talked with his father before the game, and Kevin Beary told him that he intended to stay up into the early-morning hours to watch the game.
“He said six or eight guys were going to stay up with him,'' Beary said. “I hope he got to see it.''
Beary's hit brought Jackie Bradley Jr. to the plate to face Nick Fleece, who replaced Martin. The most valuable player in last year's CWS, Bradley was playing for the first time since being sidelined by a wrist injury on April 23.
His long absence led to South Carolina's decision to have Bradley attempt to sacrifice Beary to third.
“Had he maybe been in the lineup the entire season,'' coach Ray Tanner said, “there's a good chance that he would have swung away because he could have pulled the ball and got him over.
“But because he hadn't had a lot of at-bats, I made up my mind immediately we were going to bunt and try to get him (Beary) to third with one out.''
Bradley twice bunted foul in working the count to 2-2 before lashing a single to left field to advance Beary to third. Fleece then walked Evan Marzilli to load the bases, forcing Texas A&M to bring its left fielder into the infield in an attempt to cut off a run at the plate.
Aggies coach Rob Childress said the strategy worked a couple of seasons ago in a similar situation against Baylor.
“Everything has to work out in your favor to get out of that spot,'' Childress said. “It did against Baylor. Tonight, it didn't happen.''
Wingo made sure it didn't, driving a 1-2 pitch from Fleece deep into right field.
“I was really trying to get the ball up in the air,'' said Wingo, who went 4 for 4 to raise his batting average to .350. “When I got two strikes on me, I just tried to battle. He threw me an inside fastball and I got it up.''
Wingo had scored the winning run in South Carolina's 2-1, 11-inning win over UCLA in the last game played at Rosenblatt Stadium. Sunday's hit provided a first for Tanner — his teams had lost the opening game in Omaha on their previous four trips to the CWS.
“It's a very unusual feeling for me to be in Omaha and win the first game,'' Tanner said.
The win, South Carolina's 12th straight in the NCAA tournament, improved the Gamecocks to 51-14 and put them into a Tuesday winners game against Virginia, the national No. 1 seed that opened Sunday play with a 4-1 win over California.
The Aggies (47-21) will face the Golden Bears in a 1 p.m. elimination game.
“This isn't the first time we've lost a game,'' Childress said. “We've lost 21 on the year, and our guys have been very, very resilient. Cal is in the same situation we are. There's no tomorrow.
“I know we'll get Cal's best. And I can tell you this: Cal's going to get our best.''