By Robbie Neiswanger
By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
OMAHA, Neb. — South Carolina got a brilliant pitching performance by staff ace Michael Roth to stay alive in the College World Series on Thursday afternoon.
The Gamecocks got another one from left-hander Jordan Montgomery a few hours later, beating Arkansas 2-0 to force a final game for a spot in the championship series.
Montgomery kept the two-time champs alive once again, limiting Arkansas to three hits in eight innings before turning the game over to closer Matt Price for an easy ninth. The duo combined to hand Arkansas its first shutout in the College World Series, a streak that spanned 23 games.
More importantly, it dumped the Razorbacks (46-21) out of the driver’s seat for a spot in next week’s championship series, setting the stage for a deciding game in TD Ameritrade Park at 8 p.m. tonight.
“He kept us off balance enough to keep us distracted,” Arkansas designated hitter Joe Serrano said. “He beat us (Thursday).”
Arkansas’ calling card in two straight wins in Omaha was its pitching, but South Carolina (48-18) stole the show Thursday.
It began with Roth’s complete game against Kent State, when the veteran earned his record-tying fourth win in the College World Series by allowing one run on two hits to eliminate Kent State. Roth also gave South Carolina some momentum for the night game in the process, where it bounced back from the 2-1 loss to Arkansas in the winner’s bracket on Monday night.
“There was definitely some pressure,” Montgomery said of his start. “They needed me and I tried to do what I could.”
Montgomery got to work with a lead most of the night after South Carolina scored early, getting two runs off starter Randall Fant (2-3) in the second inning. It handed Arkansas its first deficit in the College World Series and also ended Fant’s night after throwing just 1 2/3 innings.
The production proved more than enough for Montgomery (6-1), who was part of a South Carolina pitching staff which combined to allow one run on five hits in two games Thursday. Montgomery, who was tagged for five runs and nine hits in a start at Arkansas on May 5, cruised through the lineup throughout the night. He retired 12 straight batters at one point Thursday.
“Montgomery was on his ‘A’ game,” Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello said. “That’s about it. When a guy is on his ‘A’ game, it doesn’t matter how hard he’s throwing. If he’s left-handed, right-handed, it’s tough to get offense going.”
But even when Arkansas had runners on base, the chances ended quickly thanks to base-running mistakes and solid defense.
It started early, when Joe Serrano singled with one out in the first. But he soon was thrown out trying to steal second base. Second baseman Bo Bigham was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fifth, but later thrown out trying to advance from first to third on a single by outfielder Derrick Bleeker. Outfielder Matt Vinson singled to lead off the sixth, but the Gamecocks turned a double play when catcher Jake Wise lined out to shortstop Joey Pankake.
The final opportunity came in the eighth, when outfielder Brian Anderson walked to open the inning. South Carolina turned another double play on a sharp grounder off Bigham’s bat, which was fielded by Christian Walker at first base. Walker touched the bag and fired to second for another double play to end the threat.
“They got the breaks tonight, we didn’t,” Bigham said. “We’ve had them for the past couple of weeks probably and they just went the other way (Thursday). … We’ve just got to look past it and get ready to go.”
Arkansas — which erupted to score an NCAA Tournament high eight runs in its College World Series opener against Kent State — has been limited to two runs in two games against South Carolina. The Hogs have been shut out in 14 straight innings, dating back to Vinson’s RBI single in the fourth during Monday’s win against South Carolina.
“I’m just going to give the credit to (Montgomery),” Van Horn said. “He pitched very well. He just did a tremendous job.”
The good news: Arkansas isn’t done, yet.
The Razorbacks still get a chance to advance to the championship series tonight, when the teams play the deciding game. The winner will play a best-of-three championship series against Arizona, which improved to 3-0 in Omaha with a 10-3 win against Florida State earlier Thursday.
The Razorbacks will send DJ Baxendale to the mound for the must-win game. He started Arkansas’ opener in Omaha, allowing one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner didn’t name a starter immediately after the game Thursday. But Bigham said it didn’t matter.
“We’ve got to get ready to go,” Arkansas second baseman Bo Bigham said. “The biggest game of the day is (tonight).”