By The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — South Carolina coach Ray Tanner didn’t go into the season expecting to win a second straight national championship.
His Gamecocks did that in record fashion, becoming the first team to go 10-0 in an NCAA tournament and the first since Oregon State in 2007 to go unbeaten in a CWS with Tuesday night’s 5-2 win that completed a two-game sweep of Florida.
“The statistics, the percentages of doing that are stacked against you,” Tanner said. “The only thing I kept holding onto was, ‘Let’s have a good team. Let’s have a good season. Let’s get to the postseason. Let’s get a chance to go to a regional.
“And then you try to do well when you get there.”
Oh, the Gamecocks did well, all right.
The Gamecocks (55-14) retooled their pitching staff, star center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. missed two months with a broken wrist and first baseman Christian Walker played through the same injury during the CWS finals.
Two of their five wins here came in walkoff fashion, and they worked out of bases-loaded situations four times over two games and had left fielder Jake Williams throw out a runner at the plate to prevent Florida from scoring the winning run in Game 1 of the finals.
By comparison, the clinching victory was downright boring.
Michael Roth pitched 7 2-3 innings on three days’ rest and the Gamecocks were in control throughout.
The Gamecocks have the distinction of winning the first CWS at TD Ameritrade Park after winning the last one played at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“Beginning of the year I said we finished at the old one, so let’s try to open the new one up,” said second baseman Scott Wingo, voted the CWS’ Most Outstanding Player. “Coach wasn’t sure we would get it, but I’m the type of guy who felt we were going to do it. I was thinking of the Oregon State team the whole year. I had a feeling we would get back and win this thing, and we did.”
South Carolina became the first team to ever go 10-0 in an NCAA tournament and the first since Oregon State in 2007 to go unbeaten in a CWS.
The Gamecocks’ streaks of 16 NCAA tournament wins and 11 straight in the CWS are both the longest all-time.
They became the sixth team to win consecutive national titles and first since Oregon State in 2006-07.
“We’re not the most talented team, and we don’t have the best players position for position,” Roth said, “but we go out and stick together as a team. We battle. I can’t describe it. We’re a bunch of average Joes and love each other and come out and battle.”
Peter Mooney doubled to start a three-run third inning in the matchup of SEC rivals and hit the Gamecocks’ first home run of the CWS in the sixth.
After giving up four runs in the first inning of their opener against Texas A&M, the Gamecocks allowed just six in their other 50 innings here.
“They earned this one,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They were a little bit better than us in all phases. They pitched a little bit better. They hit a little bit better. They played a little bit better defense and they earned it.”
Three of the Gamecocks’ first four wins here came in their last at-bat and included incredible pitching and defensive performances in the late innings.
No drama was necessary Tuesday.
“You have to be a little lucky to win this game,” Tanner said. “We were living a charmed life.”
Wingo had the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth against Texas A&M and made two great plays to keep Florida (53-19) from scoring late in the game Monday. He batted .333 and drove in four runs.
“He’s been so valuable to this program,” Tanner said. “He loves this program. He has fun. That’s how you have to play this game.”
Roth (14-3), who pitched seven innings against Virginia on Friday, gave up five hits and two runs before leaving in the eighth. He started last year’s national championship game but didn’t get the decision.
“Mike has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve seen on the field,” said South Carolina’s Christian Walker, who played the last two games with a broken left wrist. “You want him out there even if he’s not 100 percent.”
Among pitchers who have worked 30 innings at the CWS, Roth’s 1.17 ERA over 38 1-3 innings the past two years ranks second all-time behind Ohio State’s Steve Arlin, who had a 0.96 ERA over 47 innings in 1965-66.
Roth came in with a 0.98 ERA for the season and held Florida without a run after it got leadoff men on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Roth left with two outs the next inning after giving up a double to Mike Zunino, who later scored on Josh Adams’ single off John Taylor.
Matt Price worked 1 1-3 innings for his 20th save.
Florida starter Karsten Whitson (8-1) came out strong, mixing in his mid-90s fastball to strike out three of the first six batters.
But South Carolina scored three runs in the third after Mooney’s leadoff double into the left-field corner. Whitson, a freshman who was the No. 9 overall draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2010, left with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.
“I just think I started nibbling a little bit and pitched behind the count, walked a couple of guys, hit a few,” Whitson said. “It wasn’t very good execution on my part. Just tried to keep my team in the game as best as possible.”
The Gators made it a two-run game when Zunino hit Roth’s 84-mph slider into the seats in left for his 19th homer of the season — and first off Roth since April 22.
For all the great memories left behind at Rosenblatt, the Gamecocks already have created a bunch at the new stadium.
There was Wingo’s bases-loaded single to beat Texas A&M in the bottom of the ninth in their opener.
There was Price getting out of bases-loaded situations three times against Virginia on Friday before two errant throws on bunts produced the winning run.
And then there was Wingo throwing out runners at home from second base with bases loaded in the ninth and 10th innings and left fielder Jake Williams nailing Cody Dent at the plate in the 11th before Walker scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning on two Florida throwing errors.
“Just the fact we can stay loose in situations like this,” Walker said. “These guys have an unbelievable amount of love for each other.”