Bullpen saves South Carolina

OMAHA, Neb. -- A few times each season, South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner reminds the Gamecocks about the cruelty of the sport they've chosen to play.

"This game is hard," Tanner tells them. "It'll humble you. It'll devastate you. It'll crush you -- if you allow it to."

Tyler Webb and Matt Price didn't on Friday.

With South Carolina's NCAA title hopes in limbo after surrendering two early runs to Arkansas, Webb and Price came out of the bullpen and combined to pitch seven scoreless innings in the Gamecocks' 3-2, come-from-behind victory at TD Ameritrade Park.

The win catapults two-time defending champion South Carolina into the championship round of the College World Series. Tanner's squad will take on Arizona in a best-of-three showdown that begins Sunday.

"These guys deserve all the credit in the world," Tanner said. "They just grind it out."

Indeed, Friday's victory marked the third win in 36 hours for the Gamecocks, who had faced elimination ever since losing to Arkansas on Monday.

South Carolina has struggled at the plate since arriving in Omaha, hitting only .229 as a team while averaging just 3.4 runs per game.

Thanks to the Gamecocks' hurlers, it hasn't mattered.

One day after starter Michael Roth became the College World Series' all-time leader in innings pitched, Price set the CWS mark for wins (five) by notching the W against Arkansas. Price pitched the final three innings of Friday's game. He allowed just one hit while striking out five.

"Speechless," Price said when asked about setting the record. "I know how many great pitchers have [played] in the College World Series. I've been coming out of the bullpen and vulturing some wins, I guess you could say. But just giving our team a chance to win is what matters to me most."

With the score knotted at 2, South Carolina plated what proved to be the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh when right fielder Adam Matthews walked with the bases loaded. A chorus of boos rained from the stands when the 3-2 slider Matthews took was ruled a ball.

"Certainly, it was pretty close," Matthews said.

Matthews was simply happy to reach base after struggling in his first two at-bats. He grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the first inning and struck out with the bases loaded to end the fifth.

"Honestly," Matthews said, "[I was thinking] 'I better do something or I'm never going to be able to live in Columbia again.' I was telling Coach Tanner that I've left a small village of guys on base since being out here in Omaha."

A 3-2 cushion was all that Price would need to close out the game. Impressive as his performance was, it was equaled earlier in the contest by Webb, who said he was just doing "damage control" when he relieved starter Colby Holmes with the Gamecocks trailing 1-0, two runners on and no outs in the third.

Webb surrendered a sacrifice fly that made it 2-0 -- the run was charged to Holmes -- before escaping the inning without any further damage. He allowed just two hits in four innings before yielding to Price in the seventh.

"We've had him in a starting role a few times," Tanner said of Webb. "But he just seems to thrive coming out of the bullpen. In any situation we give him, he just takes it and goes and tries to go at hitters and use both sides of the plate."

Webb (10 innings, four hits, seven strikeouts) and Price (six innings, three hits, 10 strikeouts) have posted phenomenal numbers in Omaha. Each has pitched in three games for a South Carolina squad that has used only five pitchers overall.

With Roth and Jordan Montgomery excelling as starters, South Carolina's pitching staff appears to be every bit as good as Arizona's rotation, which leads the CWS field with a 1.20 ERA in three victories. The Gamecocks are close behind at 1.60 and have played two more games.

South Carolina is expected to start Evan Beal, Forrest Koumas or Nolan Belcher on Sunday, with Roth getting the nod Monday.

Roth pitched a complete game against Kent State on Thursday morning. If he's unable to repeat that feat in his final college start, he knows the Gamecocks will be in good hands with guys such as Webb and Price in the bullpen.

"You can't ask for a better one-two punch," Roth said. "They compete out there. They're strike throwers. They're going to come at you with all they've got."