South Carolina begins quest for three-peat with win over VMI

South Carolina 2, VMI 1
South Carolina's Evan Marzilli slides in to score the winning run in the eighth inning as VMI catcher Thomas Stallings looks for the throw Friday.

COLUMBIA — With South Carolina’s mascot, Cocky, raising the back-to-back national champions flag, the Gamecocks opened a season they hope ends up the same way as the previous two.


The two-time defending College World Series winners defeated Virginia Military Institute 2-1 on Friday to start 2012 before a sellout crowd of 8,242 people at Carolina Stadium. But not before the garnet-and-black clad fans got a chance to crow a little about the program’s national dominance the past two years.

Fans posed for pictures in front of a display holding both CWS trophies. The South Carolina National Guard Band played at the entrance way as cheerleaders and spirit squad members handed out commemorative posters.

The past two CWS most outstanding players for the Gamecocks, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and second baseman Scott Wingo, threw out the first pitches.

The loudest cheers, though, came when South Carolina’s mascot pulled the rope on the flagpole in right center that declared the Gamecocks would again spend this season as defending national champions.

“It was outstanding to see our guys come back, to see the fans,” Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said. “It was special.”

It became apparent that this South Carolina team would need some time to grow. Staff ace Michael Roth, 14-3 with a 1.06 ERA last year, did his usual steady job, but left after six innings with the game tied at 1.

The Gamecocks had six first-year players in the starting lineup, including four true freshmen.

The inexperience showed at times when second baseman Chase Verguson couldn’t make a play on a hard hit grounder up the middle. Shortstop Joey Pankake threw short of first baseman Christian Walker for an error.

The Gamecocks won in vintage, late-inning style. After Evan Marzilli led off the eighth with a bunt single and was sacrified to second, LB Dantzler slapped a solid, two-out single to center that brought in the winning run.