Omaha, Neb., is the one place that all collegiate baseball players aspire to be in mid-June each year, and for the third year in a row, Hendricken player Evan Marzilli will have the distinct pleasure of competing in the College World Series.
The recent draftee of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a key member of the back-to-back national champion South Carolina Gamecocks, who sewed up their berth in college baseball’s showpiece event by sweeping the Oklahoma Sooners in their best-of-three super regional.
In the first game of the series Saturday evening, South Carolina benefited from the pitching of Michael Roth, who hurled 7.2 innings of shutout ball, while a three-run second inning at the plate staked the Gamecocks to an early lead on the way to a 5-0 triumph.
When the two teams reconvened the next day, they were facing a common enemy: Mother Nature. The heavens intervened twice in the sixth inning, with the second delay forcing the suspension of play until Monday with the game remaining scoreless.
The contest resumed in the bottom half of the sixth with Gamecock relief pitcher Tyler Webb working his way out of a bases loaded jam by getting Oklahoma rightfielder Cody Reine to fly out to right, extinguishing a golden opportunity for the Sooners to gain the upper hand in the process.
Steven Okert received the ball to start the seventh for Oklahoma, and promptly allowed a double from the bat of Connor Bright, who was immediately substituted for by pinch runner T.J. Costen.
Costen then became the beneficiary of a throwing error from Sooner first baseman Evan Mistich, whose throw to third from a Tanner English sacrifice bunt whizzed by Garrett Carey, plating the first run of the game.
English later scored the second Gamecock run of the inning when Okert uncorked a wild pitch that eluded the grasp of catcher Tanner Toal.
Oklahoma then halved the deficit in the bottom half of the frame courtesy of a Mistich base hit to right that drove home Carey.
However, just as soon as the Sooners had found new life, the Gamecock bats set about pulling the plug on Oklahoma’s hopes of extending their season by at least one more game.
Adam Matthews and L.B. Dantzler knocked consecutive one-out singles to right field, before Costen struck out swinging for the second out of the Gamecock eighth.
English then reestablished South Carolina’s two-run advantage with his second run-producing bunt of the game, bringing home Matthews and moving Dantzler into scoring position.
The bunt was merely a curtain-raiser for what was to follow. Chase Vergason proceeded to clear the bases with a double that was crushed to left-center.
The score was now 5-1 in favor of the Gamecocks, and the remnants of the crowd from Sunday were starting to look forward to the program’s tenth appearance in the College World Series, which was sealed when Dylan Neal swung and missed on a 1-2 offering from closer Matt Price, who picked up a nine-out save.
First up for South Carolina in Omaha is No. 1 national seed and conference rival Florida, who pose the biggest risk in terminating the Gamecocks’ record 21-win NCAA Tournament winning streak.
The Gators have won three of the four previous meetings this season, including a 7-2 decision that eliminated South Carolina from the conference tournament last month.
Their fifth meeting of 2012 will take place on Saturday evening, under the bright lights of TD Ameritrade Park and with the eyes of the nation gazing towards champion and challenger alike. First pitch is scheduled for 9 p.m., with ESPN providing national television coverage.