The South Carolina Gamecocks picked up a 7-1 victory over the UCLA Bruins behind a strong pitching performance from junior RHP Blake Cooper. He went eight innings allowing three hits and one run while striking out 10 batters with one walk.
The Gamecocks jumped on UCLA ace Gerrit Cole for two runs in the first inning with three hits and taking advantage of a Cody Regis error to give the Gamecocks the early 2-0 lead. They would add a single run in the top of the second inning on a Evan Marzilli RBI single to give South Carolina the 3-0 lead.
They continued to expand the lead in the third inning when they would score two more runs on a Bobby Haney 2 RBI single to right field to give the Gamecocks the 5-0 lead after 2.5 innings.
South Carolina widened in the lead in the fifth inning when Bobby Haney hit a sacrifice fly which scored Adrian Morales from third to make the score 6-0. Even Merrifield then gave the Gamecocks another run in the top of the eighth inning with a single to center which scored Scott Wingo to give them the seven run lead.
UCLA would finally figure out the South Carolina pitching staff in the bottom of the ninth inning when they would take advantage of two hits and a walk against Cooper before he was lifted in favor of John Taylor who would shut the door and give the Gamecocks the 7-1 victory.
The main story of the night was Blake Cooper dominating on the mound as he was pitching on three days rest. There was many media members across the country which were questioning Coach Ray Tanner’s decision to start him.
Coach Tanner said the following about the decision to start Cooper today:
Well, you know, the first day here we had the rain delay. And he was in the mid-60s. So I think that has helped him a little bit, the fact that he didn’t run too many pitches out there in the opener.
But we met this morning and talked it over, Cooper and I did. I certainly wanted to pitch him today. But I encouraged him to take another day, if he felt that it would be in his best interests.
And he just looked at me for a few minutes and said, I’ll be as good today as I’ll be tomorrow. What’s the difference? I said, It’s another day’s rest. And he said, It ain’t going to matter to me. I’ll do the best I can do today and tomorrow. I said, So be it. And that’s sort of what happened.
But Cooper realized the maturity he has, he realized early on that he didn’t have the giddy-up he needed on his fastball. And he needed his changeup, slider, curveball, the two-seamer was sinking, got some ground balls. He just tried to pitch. And he was outstanding.
Blake Cooper talked about how it came that he was going to start the opener of the CWS Championship series stating:
Well, Coach Calvi came to my room last night, asked if I was good to go, and I said, Yeah, I’m going. Coach Tanner called me to the room this morning and he said would I want another day off. Like he said I really didn’t think another day was going to matter at this point.
I felt fine warming up today. I could tell I wasn’t going to have enough giddy-up on my fastball like Coach Tanner said. And I really wanted to rely on the sink and being able to throw curveballs and sliders and strikes, and I was able to do that early in the count, get some ground balls out and base strikeouts when I needed them.
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner and Blake Cooper but discussed how important Kyle Enders has been to the pitching staff this year by saying:
Coach Tanner: Kyle Enders I’ve said many times, he’s an unheralded part of our team he blends into the woodwork. It’s his demeanor. He’s not very boisterous, a quarter quiet young man but an outstanding backstop. He throws out runners, pitchers aren’t afraid to throw balls in the dirt ahead in the count. And it’s a key component of having a pitching staff to have a guy back there like Kyle Enders
Blake Cooper: Not only is Kyle a great catcher.
He’s a great person. I’ve been here four years and he works his rear end through the bullpen and threw out the season and off-season. It’s been great to pitch to him. Great catcher and a great friend. And contributes, or most of my success to Kyle
The South Carolina offense really took it to UCLA starter Gerrit Cole tonight by getting him to give up 11 hits in only seven innings of work. He also gave up six runs (four earned) for the first time in his young career. He talked about the approach that the South Carolina hitters had tonight against him saying:
Well, you know, they had a great approach. I don’t know what the approach was. But it was — whatever it was, it worked. You know, they touched the ball with two strikes.
You know, constantly worked counts, foul balls off.
I jumped ahead of a lot of batters. Had a lot of guys 0-1, 1-2. And, you know, they touched the ball. They didn’t chase the fastball up. They just did a very good job. A night like tonight with a line like this, I mean, sometimes you gotta kind of beat yourself up about it, but they did a great job.
Coach John Savage announced that Rob Rasmussen will get the Game 2 start while South Carolina was no-committal on Monday evening stating that it will probably be a left handed with Michael Roth, Tyler Webb, Steven Neff and Nolan Belcher all being options.