OMAHA, NE (TheBig SPpur) - South Carolina didn't figure to meet Kent State under these circumstances. The Golden Flashes put out College World Series favorites Florida on Monday afternoon and will try to knock off their third Southeastern Conference team of the tournament tonight when they meet the Gamecocks at 8 p.m.
The Gators, the No. 1 national seed, were supposed to win the elimination game but Kent State was able to hang on to a 5-4 victory. The Golden Flashes eliminated Kentucky in the Gary Regional to dispatch their first SEC foe. Then it was the Gators.
Next up is South Carolina, the two-time defending national champions. Eight SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this year and KSU would have to go through four of them to make it to the championship series.
"They can swing it a little bit," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "They're a good team and have been for a while. They'll be ready to go and it will be a tremendous challenge for us."
Tanner will give the ball to freshman Jordan Montgomery tonight for his first College World Series appearance. He pitched 6.2 innings of two-run baseball against Clemson in the Regional and did not pitch in the Super Regional.
Montgomery has played a key role this season for the Gamecocks going 5-1 with a 4.05 ERA in 66.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting .259 against him this season.
The southpaw is trying to look at this as just another start, despite the fact that it's undoubtedly his biggest start of his young career. He'll face a Kent State club that is hitting. 246 in the College World Series this year, which is good for third out of eight teams.
"They're a good team," Montgomery said. "We can't overlook them. We have to play our best baseball."
Tanner debated, but he decided to take his team back out to the practice field. It was atypical Tanner thinking about not practicing but after Monday's tough 2-1 loss to Arkansas, he thought his team may need a mental health day. The Gamecocks had a short practice with just a short round of bunting and then batting practice before hopping on the bus to head back to the hotel.
The bus ride back to the hotel after the game was too quiet for Tanner, who has gone from being overly professional when it comes to on-field and off-field antics to wanting to hear a little bit of rabble in the dugout.
"They didn't take that loss real well," Tanner said. "It was a little too quiet for me. This is a chirpy group. Let it go. I'll stay up for everybody. These guys have done a heck of a job. We'd like to have a couple of days off and be on the winning side, but it didn't happen. Now we have to regroup."
Regrouping is what Tuesday was all about for the Gamecocks. The team went by the children's hospital in the morning to visit cancer patients. The team signed autographs, gave away a few baseballs and a few hugs, too. Afterwards, the team was back to business at Creighton University.
"Nobody is really sweating the loss too much," Walker said. "Coach Tanner really forced us to flush it last night and not really think about it. It's really the only thing you can do in this situation. We're coming out today with a clean head and just play the game like we've been playing."
On the field, UCLA and Florida State met in a battle of national seeds in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. The No. 2 national seed, the Bruins, were eliminated at the hands of the three-seeded Seminoles 4-1 on Tuesday night. FSU got out to a 4-0 lead scoring a pair of runs on walks in the first inning and another pair in the fourth inning and coasted to an easy victory. Florida State will now have to beat Arizona twice to advance to the national championship series.
Kent State will counter Montgomery with right-hander Tyler Skulina, who is tied for the team lead with 11 wins. He's allowed 91 hits and has 97 strikeouts in 101.2 innings pitched this season.
A 6-foot-6 sophomore, Skulina was on the mound when his team beat Kentucky in the Gary Regional. He tossed 7.0 innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out five in his 89-pitch outing. He was the team's No. 3 starting pitcher for most of the season.
Skulina was 7-0 against conference competition this season and was a second-team All-MAC selection. A Virginia transfer, Skulina went 5.2 innings and struck out four at Oregon in his last start in the winner-take-all game three of the 2012 NCAA Eugene Super Regional.
Kent State is now 4-3 all-time vs. Southeastern Conference opponents in NCAA Tournament action – including two wins over then-No. 13 Kentucky in the 2012 NCAA Gary Regional. The Golden Flashes are 7-3 against ranked opponents in 2012.
The game can be seen live on ESPN.