Merrifield's single in 11th beats UCLA, gives Gamecocks first-ever title

OMAHA, Neb. -- South Carolina provided a perfect send-off for Rosenblatt Stadium.

Almost two weeks ago, Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner was soaking up the atmosphere during the opening ceremonies for the College World Series when he let his mind drift.

"It dawned on me, it would be wonderful to go deep into this thing and be around at the end," Tanner said. "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."

They sure will, after Whit Merrifield's RBI single with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning gave South Carolina its first baseball national championship with a 2-1 victory over UCLA in the College World Series on Tuesday night.

The Gamecocks (54-16) won six straight games after losing their CWS opener against Oklahoma. They 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 before the event moves to a new downtown stadium next year. 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 as the CWS home.

"To be the last team to win it here, that's amazing," said winning pitcher Matt Price.

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 forces all around and a possible double play.

"When I saw the catcher squat down, I knew I had something to prove. They wanted to get me out," Merrifield said.

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 (51-17) 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 (51-17) -- "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.

"Clutch pitching, big-time pitching," Savage said. "Big pitches in big counts. We had a rally going after two outs, and we just could not come up with a big hit. 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.

Pinch-hitter Brady Thomas reached on a sharply hit ball up the middle to start the inning, chasing reliever Erik Goeddel. Klein came on, and pinch-runner Robert Beary moved to second on Kyle Enders' grounder.

Klein tried to trick Beary with a fake pickoff to second, with second baseman Cody Regis acting as if he were giving chase to a bad throw into center field. Beary wasn't fooled, but South Carolina fans didn't appreciate the shenanigans and booed loudly.

They were cheering moments later when Haney hit a chopper to the right side. The ball glanced off UCLA first baseman Dean Espy's glove, and Regis tried to grab it with his bare hand. But Regis couldn't get it, and Beary rounded third for home as the ball trickled into right field.

The Bruins loaded the bases in the top of the ninth against Price, but he struck out Niko Gallego to get out of trouble.

UCLA had to reset its infield for the bottom of the ninth. Espy punched a dugout wall with his right -- throwing -- hand after committing the error that led to the tying run, and that left him icing his hand. Trevor Brown moved from third base to first, Regis went from second to third and Adrian Williams took over at second.

Like the Gamecocks, UCLA missed out on early scoring chances and 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. The Bruins broke through in the fifth when Brown hit a leadoff single, moved over on a sacrifice and scored on Gallego's two-out single to left.

"To get so close and to fall short hurts," said UCLA starter Rob Rasmussen, who allowed six hits in six scoreless inning. "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."