South Carolina's long day pays off

OMAHA, Neb. -- The latest barrier between South Carolina and an NCAA title included an 8 a.m. wake-up call, 18 innings of baseball and a bus ride to the hotel that didn't begin until shortly before midnight.

All the while, a win-or-go-home proviso hovered over the Gamecocks like the dust cloud over Pig-Pen.

"Definitely not the most ideal situation," first baseman Christian Walker said.

Maybe not, but it hardly seemed to bother South Carolina, which turned in the guttiest performance yet at this year's College World Series by winning two games Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Michael Roth helped the Gamecocks stave off elimination by tossing a complete game two-hitter in a 4-1 victory over Kent State. Roth retired the final 22 hitters he faced in a contest that lasted just 2 hours, 7 minutes.

Seven hours later, South Carolina returned to the field and defeated SEC rival Arkansas 2-0. The Razorbacks mustered just three hits against pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Matt Price, whose efforts forced a Friday rematch between the two teams, with the winner advancing to play Arizona in a best-of-three series that begins Sunday.

"It's always going to be a knife fight against [Arkansas]," left fielder Tanner English said. "They're an awesome program."

But not as awesome as South Carolina.

At least not yet.

The Gamecocks have captured the past two College World Series titles and owned an NCAA-record 22-game postseason win streak before losing to Arkansas 2-1 on Monday.

South Carolina, though, appeared to be back in championship form Thursday. Gamecocks pitchers surrendered just one run and five hits in two games and didn't allow a single Arkansas player to get past second base.

"Defensively and on the mound, we were almost perfect," said Walker, who raised his average to .319 by going 2-for-4 against the Razorbacks.

With Roth and Montgomery combining for 17 innings in the doubleheader, the Gamecocks should have plenty of fresh arms for Friday's rematch with Arkansas. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said late Thursday that he was still torn over who to start on the mound. The candidates: Nolan Belcher, Forrest Koumas and Colby Holmes.

No matter who Tanner chooses, Arkansas will need to find a way to generate some offense after scoring two runs or less in four of its past six games.

"We have a shot to play for the national title if we win that game," center fielder Matt Vinson said. "I felt like our team came out a little bit flat today. We'll come out a lot more excited [Friday] and play with more energy."

At this point in the season there certainly aren't any excuses for a lack of intensity.

A crowd of 23,593 was on hand for Thursday night's game, which was halted on two occasions: once when a flurry of about 50 beach balls were batted from the stands into left-center field, and again in the ninth when a fan hopped the railing and darted into the outfield, where he was chased down and pounced upon by about 10 security guards.

"It was a great crowd," Walker said. "I didn't see many empty seats up there. This is why you play the game, for moments like this. We'll be ready, and I'm sure Arkansas will be, too."