As Matt Price walked to the mound in the top of the ninth inning, the scene felt eerily familiar. Give them no chances, make no mistakes. Ten pitches later the season was over and a raucous celebration overtook TD Ameritrade Park.
The South Carolina Gamecocks were NCAA National Champions. Again.
Led by a brilliant effort from staff ace Michael Roth, South Carolina thoroughly defeated Florida, 5-2, to sweep the College World Series Finals and claim the first back-to-back title defense since Oregon State's 2006-2007 run.
Roth was incredible all night long, stifling the Gator's bats with seven and two-thirds innings of five-hit ball on just three-day's rest. It was the perfect capper to an unbelievable season in which the South Carolina hurler racked up 13 wins with a 1.06 ERA over 145 innings.
Afterwards, senior second basemen Scott Wingo was named the 2011 CWS Most Outstanding Player. The Gamecock's leadoff man batted .333, drove in four runs, and claimed one mighty fine looking belt throughout the two-game series.
Caught in a pitcher's duel early in the game, South Carolina finally broke through in the bottom of the third, scoring three consecutive runs -- two unearned -- off Gator freshman Karsten Whitson. Gamecock shortstop Peter Mooney started things off by cracking a double down the left field line, and eventually made his way home off Wingo's sacrifice fly to break the scoreless tie.
Soon after, in a series of events uncannily reminiscent of Monday night's defensive breakdown that cost the Gators Game 1, Florida sophomore Nolan Fontana mishandled a dribbler up the middle. The play should have resulted in the end of the inning, but instead gave Gamecock outfielder Evan Marzilli a free pass to home plate.
The mistake only magnified itself when Brady Thomas smashed a single down the second base line that brought in yet another South Carolina runner. By the time the dust had settled, the Gamecocks had taken a commanding 3-0 lead with just two hits.
The three-run lead is all the defending champions would need, as Roth continued to work his way out of jams unharmed, despite Florida piling runners on base in each the fifth, sixth, and seventh inning.
South Carolina Closer Matt Price came in midway through the eighth inning and slammed the door on Florida.
Freshman phenom Whitson submitted a brave effort, but looked overmatch for much of the night. Overall, the young Gator pitched a shaky four and two-thirds innings, giving up one earned run, four hits, two walks, and nailing three Gamecock batters.
From the get-go it was clear that Gator catcher Mike Zunino, one of Monday's scapegoats after his 11th inning throwing error, was looking to rebound from Game 1's disappointment. The sophomore gave it a valiant shot, going 3-3 from the plate with two runs, a walk, and a homerun in the fourth inning that cut it to a two-run game.
But the Gators never could close the gap, as Peter Mooney ensured when he crushed a Tommy Toledo pitch into the right-field stands in the sixth inning to extend the Gamecock lead. The blast was amazingly the first homerun for South Carolina in five games at the College World Series, and secured a second title for the defending champions.
In the aftermath, it is interesting to note that the SEC -- a conference best known for its football prowess -- has now posted three consecutive College World Series champions. Maybe its time to rethink things. To extrapolate, the SEC has now won its ninth College World Series title since 1990. That margin is good enough for 41% of the 22 available championships, an astounding number in retrospect.