OMAHA, Neb. — Christian Walker, cleared to play with a broken wrist a half-hour before the game, scored from first base on two throwing errors in the 11th inning and South Carolina beat Florida 2-1 in Game 1 of the best-of-three College World Series final Monday night.
The defending national champions are one win away from repeating after stunning the Gators, who failed to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth and had a runner thrown out at home in the bottom of the 10th.
In the top of the 11th inning, Walker, who injured his left wrist in Friday's win over Virginia, singled with one out. The sophomore stole second as catcher Mike Zunino's throw sailed into centerfield. Walker slid into third as Bryson Smith's throw from the outfield bounded away from third baseman Cody Dent and went into the stands. Walker came home with the winner, and South Carolina held on in the bottom half of the inning.
"Battle. That's what we do," said South Carolina second baseman Scott Wingo, who went 1-for-5 with the tying RBI in the eighth and made two clutch defensive plays in the ninth. "We grind it out every inning, every pitch. It worked out for us (Monday night)."
The Gators (53-18) must win the next two games to become the first SEC school — and fifth ever — to win the NCAA national championship in football, basketball and baseball. They will throw freshman Karsten Whitson (13-3, 0.98 ERA) against Gamecocks ace Michael Roth (13-3, 0.98 ERA) tonight.
Wingo knocked down a hard grounder by Daniel Pigott and started a 4-2-3 inning-ending double play after the Gators loaded the bases in the ninth.
Florida nearly had a walk-off single in the 10th inning, but leftfielder Jake Williams gunned down Dent, who led off with a single and was sacrificed to second, at the plate.
Gamecocks closer Matt Price recorded his 19th save.
The loss stung after sophomore Gators ace Hudson Randall, who has allowed one run or fewer in 10 of his 19 starts this season, left with two outs in the eighth after having allowed three hits. But in the eighth, he coughed up the tying run after issuing a leadoff walk to shortstop Peter Mooney, and Wingo ripped a two-out single up the middle.
"The most frustrating thing is we wasted too many chances," Randall said. "The team that beat us (Monday) is ourselves."
Nick Maronde (0-1) took the loss — UF's first in 47 games in which it had led after the seventh inning.
The Gators manufactured their lone run in the third, taking the lead on a sacrifice fly from Dent. The sophomore infielder plated just his seventh run on the year, scoring Tyler Thompson. Florida's leftfielder led off with a four-pitch walk and reached third on a wild pitch.
Two hours before the game, most of the theater surrounded Walker. Late Sunday, word leaked that the Gamecocks' leader in average (.355) and homers (10) had a stress fracture in his left wrist and would be doubtful. The sophomore was not in the original lineup, but after Walker knocked out several long balls in batting practice, coach Ray Tanner was convinced he could play.
"I knew it was going to take a lot of pain for me not to play," he said.
South Carolina freshman starter Forrest Koumas hadn't pitched in 21 days but tossed 5 2/3 innings, allowing just the one run.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.