OMAHA, Neb. -
Rosenblatt Stadium is a living, breathing testament to college baseball, a relic that has 50 years of memories coursing through its concourses. It pulses with every pitch, smells like 1952 and 1965 and 1983, oozes small-town charm.
The College World Series will leave the venerated grounds next season, heading down 10th Street and settling in at the new monolithic TD Ameritrade Ballpark, a modern marvel of beauty and comfort.
But the ol’ ballpark had a little more magic in her, she wasn’t ready to watch the young ballplayers go.
Rosenblatt held on for two extra innings, an 11th inning single by South Carolina’s Whit Merrifield driving home Scott Wingo to lift the Gamecocks to the 2-1 win over UCLA in front of 24,390.
“I was sitting out by the third baseline for opening ceremonies with the other teams, thinking, ‘What a venue, what an atmosphere, what a history, to be able to come in the last year, to be part of the College World Series and the closing of Rosenblatt,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “And it dawned on me, it would be wonderful to go deep into this thing and be around at the end. And to be able to survive and win the last game is really incredible.
“I know the new stadium will be very special and a great facility. But this is history.”
The stage was set for the final run at Rosenblatt Stadium when UCLA closer Dan Klein walked Wingo on a full-count with no outs in the bottom of the 11th. Wingo advanced to second base on a passed ball by Bruins catcher Steve Rodriguez, and a sacrifice bunt by Evan Marzilli pushed him to third.
Then Merrifield strode to the plate, lightbulbs flashing, the massively pro-South Carolina crowd feeling that the game was at hand.
Merrifield drove a 2-0 pitch to right field, sprinting to first base while throwing off his helmet, chased closely by the entire Gamecock squad as Wingo crossed home plate.
“Aw, man,” a panting Merrifield said after the game. “When I saw they weren’t going to walk me, I was trying to get a pitch in the strike zone I could get in the air. I got a fastball and I went with it. This is unbelievable. … This is too much.”
In the end, it appears Klein’s inflated pitch count was simply too much.
The UCLA closer, who has been magnificent for the Bruins with a team-leading 1.85 ERA and 10 saves, threw 73 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, 14 more than his previous high of 59 at Oregon State on April 10.
Klein was his typical dominant self for his first three innings, walking one and striking out four.
After Wingo moved to second on the passed ball, UCLA coach John Savage went out to the mound, taking every step to decide whether to insert Wednesday’s likely starter Trevor Bauer.
Savage stuck with Klein.
“Klein is a starter who is closing,” Savage said. “He’s a four-pitch guy, one of the best closers in the country. He could be a No. 1 starter in most programs, that’s how good he is. And if there’s a guy out there with the ball at the end of the game any better than him, then I’d like to see him.”
Before Klein, there was Rob Rasmussen, the UCLA savior who sent the Bruins to the College World Series with an 8-1 win over Cal State Fullerton in the deciding game of the NCAA Super Regionals at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Rasmussen allowed six hits and no runs in six innings and struck out five on Tuesday, while the Bruins tried to solve South Carolina’s Michael Roth.
They had their opportunities.
Roth allowed six hits and two walks while striking out three before giving way to Jose Mata, who continued to dominate the Bruins before giving way to three more relievers.
The Bruins left 10 runners on base and had two runners caught off base, Beau Amaral picked off at second base in the first inning and Niko Gallego caught stealing in the fifth inning.
“We left 10 on and South Carolina left 14 on, so both teams really had opportunities,” Savage said. “Clutch pitching, big-time pitching, 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.”
The Bruins fell to South Carolina on Monday night 7-1, baffled throughout the game by Blake Cooper, who threw on three-day’s rest. Cooper allowed just three hits and one run in eight innings while striking out 10, while UCLA ace Gerrit Cole suffered his worst outing of the season, surrendering 11 hits and six runs (four earned), while striking out just two.
It was a quick fall for the Bruins, who almost breezed through the bracket round, going 3-1 with just a loss to TCU.
The fall from grace was particularly tough on UCLA, which went into Rosenblatt Stadium’s final championship series against a South Carolina squad that lost its first game in Omaha, but closed it out with six straight wins.
“In the locker room, obviously, it’s hard to hold your emotions in,” Rasmussen said. “To get so close and to fall short hurts. But 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. We were under .500 last year at 27-29. We really were, like coach said, the best team that this school has ever seen.
“We set the bar for this program, really.”