OMAHA, Neb. –
The South Carolina baseball team got its wakeup call pretty early on Monday morning.
A fire alarm blared in the middle of the night, rousing the Gamecocks and forcing them outside in the cold.
The UCLA baseball team got its wakeup call pretty early, too.
This time, it was South Carolina that blazed.
The Gamecocks scored five runs in the first three innings off a rusty Gerrit Cole and rode a terrific start from pitcher Blake Cooper to a 7-1 win in the first game of the College World Series championship series at Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium in front of 23,181.
Cole went on to a season-high 11 hits on a season-high six runs (four earned) while striking out just two, which tied a season low.
“They had a great approach; I don’t know what the approach was but whatever it was, it worked,” Cole said. “They touched the ball with two strikes, constantly worked counts, fouled balls off. I jumped ahead of a lot of batters. Had a lot of guys 0-1, 1-2. And they touched the ball.”
Early, the Gamecocks were not so much stroking clean hits off Cole as just finding ways to get on base.
In the first inning with two outs, Jackie Bradley, Jr., beat out a bunt single, Christian Walker hit a blooper into left-centerfield and Brady Thomas popped one into left field on a stunted check swing, scoring Bradley. Then Cody Regis let an Adrian Morales ground ball slip through his legs for another run, and so it went for Cole.
It didn’t get any better – for Cole or the UCLA defense behind him.
The Gamecocks scored another in the second inning on an Evan Marzilli RBI single and they added two more runs in the third and another in the fifth.
“You’ve got to give South Carolina a ton of credit; they had a lot to do with that,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “They fought (Cole) pretty good. This guy hasn’t been touched like that all year. They had a good plan, and they executed their plan and we didn’t.”
Cooper – working on three day’s rest after throwing 5 2/3 innings of four-hit ball in the Gamecocks’ 3-2, 12-inning win on Thursday – was downright phenomenal against the Bruins.
The South Carolina junior showed why he led the ultra-competitive SEC in wins with a 10-1 regular-season record, holding the UCLA lineup to just one hit in eight innings before exiting after loading the bases with no outs in the ninth.
Tension finally boiled over for the Bruins in the eighth inning.
Cooper fooled Niko Gallego on an off-speed pitch a foot off the plate for his 10th strikeout, and Gallego swung his bat in frustration.
“They threw a couple of good punches, but we didn’t feel like it was going to steam-roll,” UCLA catcher Steve Rodriguez said. “We figured if we put in a few more quality at-bats, we’d be right in the game. Cooper was on his game tonight, and he didn’t allow us to do that.”
Now, as it was in the deciding game of the Los Angeles Super Regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium against Cal State Fullerton, the pressure is on Rob Rasmussen.
The UCLA junior pitcher – who shut down the Titans in a complete-game two-hitter – faltered in the Bruins’ 6-2 loss to TCU on Friday, allowing six hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings.
He’ll be in charge of cooling down the scorching Gamecocks, who wouldn’t be denied, 1:30 a.m. wake-up call or not.
“We got them out of bed this morning for breakfast and kind of kept the same routine,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “You have bumps along the way. You have some adversity. And you use it to make it stronger. You don’t use it to make excuses. I had forgotten about all that until you mentioned it. It might happen again tonight.
“I might pull it tonight, keep the same routine.”