Commentary

Gamecocks OK with the grind

Originally Published: June 24, 2010
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- All season, South Carolina has relied on pitching and defense with just enough timely hitting to get by.

So when the Gamecocks found themselves locked in a rare College World Series pitchers' duel and needed some late-night magic to stay alive, they felt right in their comfort zone.

"We've been battle-tested all year," designated hitter Brady Thomas said, "and that's the kind of game we want to be in."

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina celebrates win
AP Photo/Dave WeaverSouth Carolina was down to its last strike before pulling off the win.

Well, maybe they would have liked a little less drama. In a game in which both teams strained for every baserunner, Oklahoma had South Carolina down to its final strike in the bottom of the 12th inning. And perhaps that's when the grind-it-out mentality paid off, as the Gamecocks came up with two runs -- including Thomas's game-winning single -- to pull out a 3-2 victory. They advanced to play rival Clemson on Friday.

"We haven't been sitting out front with a big cushion in a lot of games," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whose team features only two hitters with double-digit home runs on the season. "We're certainly not comfortable being a come-from-behind team, but that's who we are."

The Gamecocks were on the verge of being shut out until the eighth inning. Oklahoma's Zach Neal was working on a masterpiece, allowing just four hits through the first seven frames. But Evan Marzilli doubled off the wall on Neal's 104th and final pitch, and Christian Walker later singled him home to tie the game at 1.

Still, that's about all the Gamecocks mustered all night, and things looked pretty bleak once the Sooners went up 2-1 on Tyler Ogle's homer in the top of the 12th inning. Before he stepped to the plate with two outs, Jackie Bradley Jr. briefly thought about how this could be the last-at bat of the season. He just hoped he'd get a chance to do something about it.

"It was either make it or break it, and I wanted that pressure to be all on me," he said. "I wanted to be up there in that count, and I made it happen."

South Carolina's best hitter said he was "shocked" that Oklahoma didn't walk him with a base open and Jeffery Jones on deck waiting for his first World Series at-bat. The Sooners, after all, gave Bradley a free pass with a two-run lead and the bases loaded in the ninth inning of Sunday's game. Sooners coach Sunny Golloway had said earlier in the week that Bradley was the one player he didn't want to let beat him.

Then again, the Gamecocks center fielder had scuffled through an 0-for-5 night as he was fed a steady diet of outside breaking balls.

"We had a plan," Golloway said.

Bradley foiled that plan by laying off a tough breaking ball on a 2-2 count. Sooners closer Ryan Duke then came back with a pitch that caught too much of the plate, and Bradley slapped it past the reach of 6-foot-5 first baseman Cameron Seitzer to tie things up again.

[+] EnlargeZach Neal
AP Photo/Nati HarnikOklahoma's Zach Neal sparkled for seven innings against South Carolina.

After Duke walked Jones, Thomas bounced the very next pitch up the middle to win it.

"The pressure was all on them at that point," Thomas said.

If South Carolina played to its natural tendencies, Oklahoma lived up to only part of its reputation. The Sooners were known as a bunch of wall-bashing sluggers coming into Omaha, but they scored just 11 runs in three World Series games. They had only five hits in Thursday's marathon.

"I just think a lot of guys were pressing too much," Ogle said. "One guy doesn't do something, and the next guy puts it on his shoulders to do much."

The Gamecocks ask a lot of their pitchers' arms, but that remains a winning formula. Blake Cooper gave up just one run while starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career, and five relievers combined to yield just one hit in the final 6.1 innings. The Gamecocks have had a deep bullpen all year, and they'll have to scrounge for some fresh arms for Friday's matchup against Clemson. Tanner said he had no idea who would start that game.

Whoever goes to the mound just needs to keep the score close. Then South Carolina should feel right at home.

"We like to make it hard on ourselves," Bradley said. "But we've been battling back all year long, and winning close games has been key for us."

Brian Bennett covers college sports for ESPN.com.