COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina rallied all the way back from losing their opening game of the 2016 NCAA Columbia Regional, defeating UNCW on Tuesday by a 10-5 count to earn the Regional championship. With the victory, the Gamecocks advance to the Super Regional round, where they will host Oklahoma State Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
For South Carolina (46-16), it will be the 12th Super Regional appearance all-time and the first since 2013. But the Gamecocks did it the hard way after falling 5-4 to Rhode Island on Friday night; this is the first of Carolina’s 12 Regional titles that have come after losing the opening game.
Sophomore Madison Stokes led the charge offensively, going 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBI. Sophomore TJ Hopkins added three hits, while senior DC Arendas hit a home run and drove in a pair.
Junior southpaw Josh Reagan (3-2) was the winning pitcher after throwing 3.0 innings of relief in support of starter Taylor Widener, who made it through the first 4.0 innings. UNCW senior left-hander Ryan Foster (13-2) took the loss after giving up five runs in 3.1 innings.
Sophomores Brian Mims and Zack Canada led the Seahawks (41-19) with two hits apiece.
UNCW scored first, putting a single run on the board in the 3rd inning. A Mims groundout provided the score, bringing Robbie Thorburn to the plate. But the Gamecocks avoided a major jam when Widener got Nick Feight to fly to the warning track with two runners on to end the inning.
Conceding the early lead under the Gamecocks, who came up with five runs in the 4th. Alex Destino and Stokes each came through with two-RBI singles, chasing Foster from the game and making the score 4-1.
The fifth and final run of the inning came with reliever Taylor Hyssong in the game. Arendas dropped a perfect squeeze bunt down as Stokes was charging home from third base. Stokes scored without a throw, and the Gamecocks held a 5-1 lead.
Two more Gamecocks scored in the 6th inning. Stokes drove in Destino with a single, and four batters later junior Gene Cone drew a bases-loaded walk. The Carolina was increased to 7-1.
The lead grew to 8-1 in the top of the 8th, when Arendas launched a long home run. It was his second of the Regional and fifth of the season.
Those insurance runs would come in handy when UNCW surged back with four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Seahawks loaded the bases with no outs, when junior Casey Golden delivered a two-run double. Pinch hitter Andy Austin followed with an RBI groundout, and Canada added a run-scoring single to make the score 8-5.
With UNCW closing the gap, sophomore John Jones stepped into a pinch hit situation in the 9th inning and delivered his biggest hit of the season. With two on and two out, Jones smashed a pitch off the bullpen fence in right-center field for a double. Both runners scored to up the lead to 10-5.
That would close the scoring, as UNCW was unable to rally in the bottom of the 9th.
Junior right-handed pitcher Tyler Johnson was named Regional MVP. He went 2-0 in two appearances (one start) on the mound and allowed just one run in 10.1 innings. He was joined on the All-Regional Team by Arendas, Cone, Destino and catcher Hunter Taylor.
With the Founders Park crowd supporting them, the Gamecocks won the final three games of the Columbia Regional by a combined 43-8 margin.
South Carolina and Oklahoma State will play a best-of-three series at Founders Park for the right to advance to the College World Series. Game 1 is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, with live television coverage available on ESPN2. Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m., and Monday’s start time, if necessary, has yet to be determined.