South Carolina defeats UCLA, 2-1, for baseball title


Reporting from Omaha — One of the toughest daily activities for UCLA baseball Coach John Savage is walking through the school’s Hall of Fame room.

There, he sees a nation-leading 106 national championship trophies in 17 sports. Expect those strolls to become even more difficult after the Bruins’ baseball program remained absent from the list. South Carolina’s Whit Merrifield singled to right field with one out in the 11th inning to score the winning run in a 2-1 victory over the Bruins Tuesday in the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.

It was the Gamecocks’ first title in school history, leaving UCLA searching for that elusive championship.

“I told the players they have now reached the pinnacle of college baseball,” Savage said after the Bruins were swept in the best-of-three championship series. “We can sit here and be proud of the entire program. Now the bar has been raised, we look to be back as soon as possible.”

The Bruins (51-17) were 0-4 in their previous two CWS trips, but through eight innings, they had the Gamecocks where they wanted them.

In the end, South Carolina (54-16) was where it felt most comfortable throughout the tournament: with its back against the wall.

The Bruins led 1-0 on an RBI single by Niko Gallego in the fifth inning, before South Carolina regained the magic that allowed it to work through the loser’s bracket after losing its CWS opener. The Gamecocks won four consecutive elimination games to reach the finals.

Their break came in the eighth, when shortstop Bobby Haney hit a grounder that was mishandled by Bruins first baseman Dean Espy. The error allowed pinch-runner Robert Beary to score from second base.

“We’re never comfortable, but we do play uphill a lot,” South Carolina Coach Ray Tanner said. “I told the guys in the middle of the game, ‘This is who we are, this is the kind of game we win.”’

The Bruins had a chance to regain the lead in the ninth. A walk by Steve Rodriguez loaded the bases for Gallego, who struck out swinging.

That was all the Gamecocks needed.

South Carolina second baseman Scott Wingo led off the 10th with a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. A sacrifice bunt by Evan Marzilli moved Wingo to third, setting the stage for Merrifield.

Wingo was swarmed by teammates as he crossed home plate, causing disappointment to spread among the Bruins.

“Emotions were running wild” in the locker room, UCLA outfielder Brett Krill said. “I just can’t say enough about this team. Really, it was a battle. South Carolina played a great game. So did we. They came out on top. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll go to battle with any of those guys on my team any day.”