OMAHA, Neb. -- It was strange with all the flashes.
In a 63-year-old stadium, technology caught up to nostalgia Tuesday night at the College World Series. They were determined -- the CWS fans with their ultra-modern, ultra-thin, ultra-fast shutter-speed pocket cameras -- to the capture the moment. The moment when Rosenblatt Stadium saw its final CWS pitch.
SI.com: Gamecocks make their own history
Bleacher Report: 2010 CWS coverage
SB Nation: Game 2 blog
So they kept taking pictures, on every pitch late in South Carolina's 2-1, 11-inning victory against UCLA. Every pitch, every swing until Rosenblatt's final cheer had bled out. Coincidence cooperated when Carolina's Whit Merrifield made it a merry field for the Gamecocks. His one-out single over a drawn-in infield broke a 1-1 tie and gave South Carolina its first men's team championship.
No souvenir commemorating the stadium's final CWS game could match what the fans could capture themselves with their Minoltas.
Thank goodness, then, for memory cards. There were plenty of pitches -- 358 combined. The teams' closers -- UCLA's Dan Klein and South Carolina's Matt Price -- went head-to-head basically from the ninth inning on.
UCLA was denied its first baseball championship when South Carolina's Scott Wingo led off the 11th with a walk, went to second on a passed ball and then to third on a sacrifice. Then Merrifield jumped on Klein's 73rd pitch for the single to right that turned out the lights on the Bruins and Rosenblatt.
There was no explanation why UCLA coach John Savage didn't walk the bases full and set up the force out at any base. Maybe that was nitpicking on this historic night.
"The game was special, the game was as good as it gets at this level," Savage said. "South Carolina just wouldn't give us anything. The national championship is supposed to be played like that."
|Whit Merrifield ends a glorious era in college baseball while beginning South Carolina's celebration. (Getty Images)|
Rosenblatt's goodbye, then, was long, dramatic, hilarious and sad. It seemed that every one of the 24,390 in attendance (minus two) stayed until that last pitch, the last flash and the last dog pile. For the record, the South Carolina players jumped on top of each other just beyond second base, more or less the middle of this field of dreams.
Note to shiny, new, corporate TD Ameritrade Park that opens next year downtown: You have a lot to live up to.
"I know the new stadium will be very special and a great facility," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said, "but this is history. It's got to be the most special postseason tournament in the history of all the NCAA championships."
For UCLA, there was utter devastation. A 1-0 victory -- and a tie in the series -- was five outs away from reality when first baseman Dean Espy's error in the eighth allowed the Gamecocks to tie it.
The Bruins have won 106 team championships but still none in baseball. Three days ago, the man who poured the foundation for that Bruin excellence, John Wooden, was memorialized at Pauley Pavilion.
"He's the legend of all legends," Savage said. "He's why coaches coach. He's the guy who laid the groundwork."
The great man deserved better than 4,000 at that memorial because it was his legacy that propelled the baseball Bruins here. They proudly wrote his initials on their caps. Now, who knows when they will be back in Omaha?
|Most people get to take pictures of the Rosenblatt swansong; players get to take home dirt from their field of dreams. (AP)|
After losing its first CWS game, the baseball Gamecocks won four consecutive elimination games to get to the championship series. Last Thursday, it was a strike away from being eliminated by Oklahoma before rallying. Did someone say rally? The Cocks were 4-0 in the CWS after trailing beyond the seventh inning. They outpitched arguably the best pitching staff in the country, allowing UCLA only two runs in 20 innings.
The last CWS champion at Rosenblatt will be known for its ability to paste. South Carolina's Ray Tanner pasted together a pitching staff, a winning streak and, finally, for the first time in school history -- a national championship.
It was a team with basically a two-man starting staff -- Game 1 winner Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson. Situational lefty Michael Roth came into the CWS having not thrown more than 3 1/3 innings this season. He started twice in Omaha, including Tuesday, when he allowed only one run in five innings.
South Carolina was simply more into it when it counted. There were two crippling UCLA errors in the first game, a 7-1 Carolina victory. When he absolutely had to make a play Tuesday in the eighth, Espy couldn't. A short-hop grounder off the bat of Bobby Haney bounced off Espy's glove and into short right field. Pinch runner Robert Beary scored all the way from second on the error to tie it at 1.
Espy, a .351 hitter, was removed from the game after Savage said his player "got upset and hit his hand" in the dugout following the error.
You knew what was coming next. Certain teams are blessed. This one was merely waiting for its photo opportunity.
"They're the last one standing," Savage said of the Cocks.
The stadium they won in, though, soon won't be.