If there were one pitcher in college baseball you would want on the bump for an elimination game at the College World Series, Michael Roth would be that man.
Thankfully for the Gamecocks, he wears their uniform.
Arizona beat South Carolina 5-1 in Game 1, meaning the two-time defending champions will now have to win two games in a row to achieve the three-peat. That uphill battle will begin with Roth, fully expected to pitch on Monday evening.
He's certainly proven to be up to the task in the past. Consider the following, from Mitch Sherman of ESPN:
He's already won two games in Omaha this year. Of course he has; that's all Roth does in the postseason—win games.
In his career, Roth is 8-0 in the postseason with a 1.32 ERA in 88 1/3 innings. In the CWS, he's 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in a record 53 2/3 innings.
His next start would make Roth the first pitcher to start eight career games at the CWS. A win over the Wildcats would tie Roth with teammate Matt Price for the most by a pitcher.
His middle name should be "Clutch."
Roth has to be huge for South Carolina, a team that has spent much of the year scrapping out low-scoring wins. Arizona's five runs in Game 1 was the first time in this tournament that the Gamecocks have allowed five or more runs.
Certainly, the Gamecocks won't be swayed by the pressure of facing an elimination game on Monday evening. They've now faced four elimination games in the past five days, including a brutal Tuesday doubleheader after a rain delay that saw them survive Kent State and Arkansas.
For the Gamecoks, the game plan is simple—rely on Roth to stymie the dangerous Arizona offense, score runs early and force the Wildcats to use the bullpen. Arizona has excellent starting pitching, but the bullpen is much less secure.
To the point that they have rarely been used at all in this tournament or during the season, Mitch Sherman of ESPN (an excellent source for CWS content, if you hadn't noticed) noted:
Nine games and nine wins into this NCAA postseason, Arizona starters have pitched into the eighth inning nine times. They've thrown five complete games—not counting ace Kurt Heyer's 9 1/3-inning performance in a 10-inning win in the super regional.
In today's era of specialized relievers and pitch-count obsessions at every level of baseball, Arizona's antics on the mound rank as extraordinary. Its pitchers have thrown eight complete games in 19 opportunities since May 11 and 16 for the season.
So yeah, if the Gamecocks can force the Wildcats to dip into the bullpen, it will be a turning point in this series.
But I wouldn't count on it. This South Carolina team can hit, but they don't bash. For them to force a deciding Game 3, it will have to be Roth who out-duels Arizona pitcher James Farris.
Given his past success at the College World Series, I expect he'll do just that.
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