South Carolina Pitcher Is Clutch – Again…
Gamer. Unorthodox delivery. Leader. Lefty. Competitor. Two-time national champion. Good enough to win in college, but not good enough for the pros.
Sound familiar? It all describes one of the best student-athletes in the history of the SEC. It’ not former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow we’re talking about. It’s South Carolina pitcher Michael Roth.
The senior’s big game legacy got a bit bigger on Thursday in Omaha after his complete game two-hitter willed the Gamecocks to a 4-1 College World Series elimination game win over Kent State. The victory not only allowed his team to survive for at least another game, but also cemented Roth as the best big game pitcher in the history of the CWS.
End of discussion.
It should be the end of the discussion, but when I asked Roth recently if “big game” is a moniker that fits his game he side-stepped the lofty label.
“I just consider myself a pitcher,” he flatly and understatedly responded. “I like pitching in big games, but to me every game’s a big game. That’s the day I’m pitching, so that’s a big game. You can ask any pitcher.”
“If they’re pitching that day that’s a big game for them, because we get it (the ball) once a week. We think every game’s a big game and we just like to go out there and shove it up people’s butt and hopefully we come out on top.”
Shoving it up people’s butt is something South Carolina and Roth have become accustomed to doing in recent years-especially in Omaha. Before falling to Arkansas on Monday, the Gamecocks had rattled-off a record 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament wins and Roth played a major role in that streak.
In the latest chapter in his CWS story Roth retired the final 22 Kent State batters he faced after a second inning RBI single by Sawyer Polen. He also became the first CWS pitcher in 19 years to fire a complete game while giving-up two hits or less.
“Michael’s very humble,” head coach Ray Tanner said after Roth’s complete game win over Kent State. “But since he became a (starting) pitcher he’s been a guy that straps it on for you. He’s going to give you a great effort, even if it’s not what he thinks is a best effort from him.”
Roth made just two starts (35 relief appearances) as a sophomore in 2010, but they were two of the most important starts in South Carolina history. After pitching an inning of relief in the Gamecock’s CWS-opening loss to Oklahoma and then going 1.1 innings four days later against the Sooners, Roth fired a complete game three-hitter in a 5-1 elimination game victory over Clemson in his first start of the year. He took the ball again three days later, giving his team 5.0 quality innings in the 2-1 national championship game win over UCLA.
With their NCAA winning streak growing last year, Roth never faced elimination in Omaha, but his win over Kent State on Thursday moved the Gamecocks to 4-0 in elimination games in which Roth has pitched over the last three seasons.
It’s rather ironic that a guy who was an unknown reliever just two years ago has the only three complete games the South Carolina pitching staff has had since that 2010 CWS victory over Clemson – which of course also happens to be his school’s biggest rival.
“I just made the most of an opportunity,” Roth said of getting the call against the hated Tigers two years ago at Rosenblatt Stadium. “I’m grateful that coach Tanner and the other coaches were willing to give me that opportunity. I was just able to seize it and take advantage of it.”
Roth seized the momentum of that first big opportunity and came out of the bullpen to become a starter as a junior in 2011. He wasn’t just any starter though. He was a Friday starter – in the SEC.
He was 14-3 last year with a 1.06 ERA while being named a consensus All-American, and for the second year in a row he toed the rubber for South Carolina in the national championship game. Major League scouts thought so highly of Roth and his ability to mow down SEC hitters that he waited until the 31st round of the 2011 draft to be selected by the Cleveland Indians.
Instead of signing for pennies and bouncing on buses from Ohio to Iowa, Roth chose a different path last summer. He packed his bags and headed for Spain for three months after that national title clinching win over Florida in Omaha.
Like his pitching delivery, the trip was unorthodox for a college baseball player on an elite college baseball team, but it wasn’t for someone like Roth. He was recently named the SEC’s 2012 Boyd McWhorter Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
No summer ball. No early morning workouts. Just books and beaches for three month while studying Spanish. Roth, who pitched a total of 60.0 innings during South Carolina’s 22-game NCAA streak, is now 9-1 in his final college baseball season after his win over the Golden Flashes in his latest big game effort.
He also moved up slightly in this year’s draft, going in the ninth round to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“It’s a dream really to always play professional baseball,” Roth said of the opportunity he will soon get to ride those minor league buses. “We’ll see what it holds. I just intend to go out there and hopefully learn a lot of stuff and hopefully be successful.”
What Roth has done though over the last two-plus seasons epitomizes what Tanner’s Gamecocks have come to stand for – team. The names in the South Carolina lineup have changed drastically since that first championship two years ago. Roth and just three position players are the only four remaining players who started against UCLA in that 2010 title game.
“Maybe we’re not all first rounders or anything like that, but we’re a team,” Roth said recently of this group of Gamecocks that is still vying to win a third straight national crown. “To me that’s the most important thing.”
“We just like playing baseball. We’re just a group of guys that like to come out every day and have fun on the baseball field. We don’t take it too seriously or ourselves too seriously and that helps us be successful.”
The lefty now has his name littered on the College World Series record books. His nine career appearances are tied for sixth all-time, his seven career CWS starts are tied with former Miami pitcher J.D. Arteaga for the most in CWS history and his 9.0 innings against the Golden Flashes gives him a record 53.2 career inning pitched at the College World Series.
“Pretty sweet,” Roth said Thursday when asked about the career innings record.
And pretty big.
Post Kent State video with Roth