By Eric Olson/The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — South Carolina closed out the final College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium with its first baseball title and big-time bragging rights.
“To be the last team to win it here,” winning pitcher Matt Price said, “that’s amazing.”
The Gamecocks provided the perfect send-off for the stadium that has been home to college baseball’s biggest event since 1950 with a 2-1 victory over UCLA in 11 innings Tuesday night. The CWS moves to a new stadium in downtown Omaha next year.
“It dawned on me, it would be wonderful to go deep into this thing and be around at the end,” coach Ray Tanner recalled thinking when the CWS began nearly two weeks ago. “I know the new stadium will be very special and a great facility.
“But this is history. And we’ll be a part of the College World Series and Rosenblatt for a long, long time.”
Not only because they won it, but how the Gamecocks accomplished it. South Carolina (54-16) trailed in the middle innings of all three of its NCAA regional games and had to win two one-run games in the super regionals to make it to the College World Series.
Once they got to Omaha, the Gamecocks lost their first game and had to stave off elimination four times to reach the finals, even winning one game after being down to their last strike.
In a fitting end to a fantastic season, South Carolina came from behind again Tuesday night, tying the game in the eighth inning and beating UCLA (51-17) in the 11th on Whit Merrifield’s RBI single.
“It’s just a great run,” Tanner said. “You have to have a lot of things happen for you and you have to have the right kind of people around you. But it’s not impossible to be sitting where we are. But the odds are against you being here. No matter how good your program is, there are a lot of great programs out there.”
The Gamecocks won six straight games after losing their CWS opener against Oklahoma, and became the third first-time champion since 2006 after sweeping the best-of-three series.
Each team had plenty of scoring chances, but had difficulty converting in Rosenblatt’s finale. A video tribute to the stadium, fireworks and a trumpeter playing a slow version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” finished Rosenblatt’s 61-year run.
It was the fifth championship decided in an extra-inning final, and first since Southern California topped Florida State — also 2-1 — in 15 innings in 1970.
“You start in February with 300 teams and you get a chance to go to postseason, and maybe to a super regional, and then you have things go right for you and you go to Omaha,” Tanner said. “And you get to play in the national championship series. And you’re the last team standing. Just a wonderful, wonderful time for our players and coaches.”
Merrifield was surprised UCLA closer Dan Klein didn’t intentionally walk him and Jackie Bradley Jr., the CWS Most Outstanding Player, to set up potential forceouts all around and a possible double play.
“When I saw the catcher squat down, I knew I had something to prove,” Merrifield said. “They wanted to get me out.”
Scott Wingo drew a leadoff walk and took second when catcher Steve Rodriguez, perhaps distracted when Evan Marzilli squared to bunt, let an inside 1-0 pitch get past him. Wingo moved to third when Marzilli got a bunt down, and scored when Merrifield drilled Klein’s 2-0 pitch past the pulled-in outfield of the Bruins and into right field.
“I worked the count in my favor and got a fastball, even though it was kind of down, I got the barrel on it,” he said. “And it finally went the other way and shot it into the gap. And it fell for me. And it was a great feeling.”
Price (5-1) allowed one hit over 2 2-3 innings for the Gamecocks, who also went to the CWS finals in 1975, ’77 and 2002, but came up short.
“I could have gone another two innings if I had to,” Price said. “The adrenaline kicked in.”
Klein (6-1) took the loss after working 3 1-3 innings for the Bruins — “the greatest club we played the entire year,” Tanner said.
UCLA bounced back from a 27-29 campaign a year ago to reach the College World Series finals.
“I’ve told the players that they have now reached the pinnacle in college baseball,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “Now every player in that locker room knows what it feels like, what all the hard work and all the sacrifice to get to where they are.
“Now the bar’s been raised, and we look to be back as soon as possible.”
Price worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, then allowed only one baserunner the rest of the way.
We had a rally going after two outs, and we just could not come up with a big hit,” Savage said. “And that was the story the last two nights.”
South Carolina had runners in scoring position in four of the first six innings, including loading the bases in the second, but could push nothing across until the eighth. UCLA also missed out on early scoring chances and went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
“To get so close and to fall short hurts,” said UCLA starter Rob Rasmussen, who allowed six hits in six scoreless innings. “I think maybe later tonight or tomorrow, as it all kind of sinks in, and as we look back on it, we’re all going to be proud of what we did.”