The last three spots in the College World Series were filled Monday by the two-time defending champion, a first-time qualifier and a gritty group of Hogs.
South Carolina, Kent State and Arkansas posted super-regional wins that earned them spots in a CWS field that is intriguing in its makeup. Some of college baseball’s familiar names will again play at TD Ameritrade Park, but a lot of the early focus will be on first-time participants Kent State and Stony Brook.
“I’m very happy for Stony Brook, and I’m glad we’re in different brackets,” said Kent State coach Scott Stricklin after his team’s decisive 3-2 victory over Oregon. “I’d love to meet them in the championship game — I’m not sure ESPN would like that too much since I don’t know what it would do for the ratings.
“To watch them play, they have a very good baseball team. Hopefully, people that watched us play feel the same way. We have a very talented group of kids and we play the game the right way. I felt like we deserved to win.”
Stricklin’s team, which had a 21-game winning streak snapped Sunday when the Ducks evened the best-of-three series in Eugene, bounced back to win in the ninth inning Monday on a bloop RBI double by Jimmy Rider.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner — whose Gamecocks clinched their third straight trip to Omaha with a 5-1 win over Oklahoma at Columbia, S.C. — isn’t surprised to see newcomers Kent State and Stony Brook in the CWS field.
“We’ve been headed that way a few years,” Tanner said. “There is a lot of parity in college baseball. It’s true. It’s been great to stay with it and watch it. It’s been incredible.”
Tanner’s team will arrive in Omaha with a chance to do what only one other team has done — win three straight championships. Southern California did it in the early 1970s, winning five consecutive titles.
The Gamecocks will play Florida, the club they defeated for the 2011 championship, in a first-round game Saturday. Stony Brook and UCLA — the team South Carolina beat to win in 2010 — will get the CWS started with a 4 p.m. game Friday.
Arizona, making its first appearance since 2004, will square off against Florida State, back for its 21st appearance, in the other Bracket One game at 8 p.m. Friday.
Kent State and Arkansas, coached by former Nebraska coach Dave Van Horn, will open Bracket Two play with a 4 p.m. game Saturday before Florida and South Carolina close the first round with an 8 p.m. game.
South Carolina’s victory over Oklahoma came in the completion of a game that was suspended by rain in the sixth inning Sunday night. When play resumed Monday, the Gamecocks jumped out to a 2-0 lead, scoring their first run on a throwing error and their second on a wild pitch.
Oklahoma cut the margin to 2-1 in the seventh, but South Carolina took control with a three-run eighth inning. Tanner English’s bunt single brought one run home before Chase Vergason ripped a two-run double.
Matt Price finished off the win, allowing just one hit in the final two innings, as South Carolina posted its 21st straight victory in the NCAA tournament.
“We don’t know,” Price replied when asked how the Gamecocks have put together their record streak. “We’re still trying to figure that out. Once we start the postseason, we just try to go out and win every at-bat and every pitch.”
All three of the games at the Eugene super regional were decided by one run. Kent State won the opener 7-6 before Oregon bounced back with a 3-2 win Sunday. Monday’s decisive game went down to the final pitch, when Rider blooped a double just inside the left-field line to score Derek Toadvine.
Kent State advanced to Omaha with a 46-18 record, while Oregon ends its season 46-19. The Ducks were trying to get to the CWS for the first time since 1954. The school disbanded the program after the 1981 season before starting it up again four years ago.
“I will be back there with a Duck baseball team,” said Oregon coach George Horton, who made six CWS appearances while at Cal State Fullerton. “I’m going back to the College World Series or it’s going to kill me.”
Arkansas also clinched its spot in dramatic fashion as Jake Wise drove in the game’s only run in a 1-0 win over Baylor with a 10th-inning single. Five Razorback pitchers combined to limit Baylor to five hits, the last coming in the 10th inning on Max Muncy’s two-out single that followed a walk to Josh Ludy.
Colby Suggs stranded the runners with a strikeout of Dan Evatt to put the Razorbacks in Omaha for the seventh time in school history and the third time under Van Horn.
“I feel very fortunate to get out of here with two wins and have a chance to continue our season,” Van Horn said. “It was just a great baseball game. At this level, 1-0 and extra innings to go to Omaha — I don’t know if it gets any better.
“I know baseball purists probably love this game. As a coach it was very stressful, and thank goodness it is over.”
Arkansas’ season was three outs from being over Sunday. The Razorbacks dropped the opening game of the super regional and trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Baylor had a chance to close out Arkansas, but an error on a potential game-ending double-play grounder loaded the bases. Baylor pitchers then twice hit Arkansas batters with pitches to force in the tying and winning runs.
NCAA.com contributed to this report.
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