Georgia capitalizes on weak bullpen for trip to CWS
eorgia is now headed to Omaha, Neb., to make its fifth appearance in the College World Series thanks to an 11-6 win in front of a Foley Field record crowd of 4,302.
ATHENS, Ga. -- As the grounds crew pulled off the rain-soaked infield tarp at 6:12 p.m. ET, it signaled both a beginning and an end.
The start of the deciding game in the Athens Super Regional was still nearly an hour away, but the completion of that seemingly simple task by the men who tend to the Foley Field turf was the beginning of the end of the South Carolina baseball season.
The best chance the Gamecocks had of prolonging their somewhat improbable postseason run was if Game 3 was postponed until Tuesday because of the thunderstorms that had rolled through Georgia on Monday afternoon.
The rain held out, but South Carolina's pitching didn't. Georgia is now headed to Omaha, Neb., to make its fifth appearance in the College World Series thanks to an 11-6 win in front of a Foley Field record crowd of 4,302.
The Bulldogs (47-21) will open College World Series play against Rice on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.
With the win, Georgia improved to 8-1 in elimination games and 1-0 in calculated risks.
When the Dawgs won the coin toss following Sunday's win over South Carolina, they elected to be the visitor because they wanted to stay in their normal first-base dugout -- even though it meant giving up last at-bats.
"It was a gamble, but you don't gamble with these guys because they are the real deal," Georgia coach David Perno said. "They have done it all year and they're just made of the right stuff."
The gamble was a unanimous decision among the players, but there was more to it than the comfort of a familiar dugout.
"We wanted to score first and put it to 'em," right-fielder Bobby Felmy said. "Like we've said all year, you never back a dog into a corner."
Cliches aside, the Georgia players were confident they could get through South Carolina's starting pitching in order to feast on its depleted bullpen.
The Gamecocks (41-25) got through the early innings in pretty good shape. After they gave up a pair of runs in the top of the third, South Carolina came right back to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom half of the inning.
For the Gamecocks to have a chance to survive and advance, they needed another gem from starter Wynn Pelzer -- like the complete-game win he pitched on June 5 to carry South Carolina to the super regionals.
As good as he was in the 5-1 win against Evansville in the regional round, he was still the pitcher that Georgia had roughed up on two different occasions this season.
Pelzer became his own worst enemy in the fifth and sixth innings when he gave up two runs on no hits and promptly gave the lead back to Georgia for good.
In the fifth, it was a pair of walks and a pair of hit-batsmen. In the sixth, it was a pair of walks and a wild pitch that plated the Dawgs' fourth run.
"I still felt good," Pelzer said. "My velocity was still there, but I struggled with my command the whole night.
"Against a good team like Georgia, if you give them too many free base runners, they take advantage of stuff like that."
The bad news for South Carolina was that Georgia came into Monday's game with a 39-1 record when leading after six innings.
In case there was any doubt, the Dawgs unleashed an offensive attack in the seventh to completely put the game away.
Felmy lead off the inning with a home run to left center to make the score 5-3 Georgia. Three batters later, the bases were loaded and South Carolina coach Ray Tanner had seen enough.
He reluctantly made the trip from the third base dugout to the mound. As one South Carolina columnist wrote on Monday, when Tanner has to make a trip to the mound these days, he might as well wave a white flag instead of signaling for a relief pitcher.
Surrender wasn't an option, so lefty Chase Tucker and righty Conor Lalor finished off the inning, but it was anything but a relief for the South Carolina faithful.
Georgia pounded out four more hits, scored six more runs and finished the seventh with an 11-3 lead.
"That seven-run seventh just gave them too much cushion," Tanner said. "In order to win, you can't give a good team as many opportunities as we did tonight."
The South Carolina staff gave up seven walks, hit two Dawgs and threw one wild pitch.
"The one thing we knew we had going for us is that we had put enough pressure on them that we knew we were going to get two or three innings of their bullpen," Perno said. "And that's all we were waiting for."
Georgia was led by Felmy's 2-for-4, three RBI effort, which also included a triple to go along with his home run. And center-fielder Joey Side also collected three RBI and picked up a few school records along the way. After two hits on Monday, he now has a 110 on the season. And his two-run triple in the seventh was his ninth this season and 14th for his career -- both school records.
With that seventh-inning barrage, Georgia is a perfect 40-0 with a lead after seven innings.
After a perfunctory final two innings, South Carolina prepared for a bus trip back home, while Georgia celebrated and made plans for a 1,000-mile plane trip to the west.
Georgia has only qualified for the NCAA Tournament seven times in school history, but has advanced to Omaha five of those times. Only the 1990 team came back to Athens with a national championship.
"I told these guys before the day started that I was on the 1990 team, I knew the 1987 team, I was a coach on the 2001 and 2004 teams, and there wasn't a more deserving team to go to Omaha than this one," said Perno, who was a backup second baseman on the title team. "I told them they needed to find a way to get it done because they deserved it more than any other team in our program's history."
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.