CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Jordan Montgomery didn’t want to disappoint the seniors who had helped South Carolina win two national championships. The sophomore responded with a dominating performance that kept the Gamecocks alive in their push for the College World Series.
Montgomery pitched a four-hitter Sunday, leading South Carolina past No. 1 overall seed North Carolina 8-0 in the NCAA Super Regional for the Tar Heels’ most lopsided loss this year.
“He was terrific,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “I’ve seen him do it before – I’ve seen him do it in high school, I’ve seen him do it in Omaha. So I can’t sit up here and say I’m surprised. He’s an unflappable kid and he was in total control today. That’s a start and an outing he’ll never forget.”
The win improved the Gamecocks (43-19) to 8-1 in NCAA elimination games dating to their title runs of 2010 and 2011. The only loss came in the championship series against Arizona last year.
“We’re definitely scrappy,” Montgomery said. “That’s always embedded in us: never give up and keep fighting. We hear that every day and we always know adversity is going to come, but it’s how you handle it against good teams.”
The border-state programs meet Monday to conclude the best-of-3 series, with the winner going to Omaha, Neb.
The Tar Heels (56-10) won Saturday’s opener 6-5 on an RBI single in the ninth, putting them within a win of returning to Omaha for the sixth time in eight seasons. But they got a short outing from a starting pitcher and fell behind early for the second straight day.
The Tar Heels started the year 39-2, won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title and haven’t lost consecutive games all year. They’re facing elimination for the second Monday in a row, though they twice rallied from late-inning deficits to beat Florida Atlantic in 13 innings to win the regional.
“If I have to say a whole lot, then they’re missing the picture here,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Our last 2-3 weeks hasn’t been easy. So less is more at this point: just rest and be ready.”
North Carolina hadn’t been shutout in 96 games before Sunday, and its four hits matched a season-low.
Before Sunday, its worst loss was a 10-4 home defeat to No. 6 national seed Virginia on May 16.
Credit Montgomery (6-1) for that. The left-hander didn’t let a UNC base runner reach third all day, throwing 121 pitches and walking just one batter. He dominated a lineup that had produced the most runs in the nation (8.1 per game) entering the super regionals in his first complete-game performance.
It was the first complete-game shutout win by a Gamecocks pitcher in an NCAA game since Chris Hernandez pitched a five-hitter in in a 4-0 win against East Carolina in the 2003 regionals.
“He was so good today, so it doesn’t matter how resilient you are,” Fox said. “When that guy there on the mound is making pitches like he is today, the game’s all about that guy on the mound – and he was sensational today.”
At this point, the Tar Heels could certainly use merely an adequate performance from projected Monday starter Benton Moss. After barely making it out of the NCAA regionals, they’ve taxed their bullpen this weekend thanks to the ineffective performances of starters Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson.
A day after Emanuel had his shortest outing of the season at 2⅓ innings, Johnson (4-1) turned in the shortest outing of his career by managing just five outs before heading to the dugout in the second.
By then, Tanner English – who also had three stolen bases and a diving catch in center field in the ninth – had driven in the game’s first run on a bunt. Then Joey Pankake drove in two more on a double down the left-field line and L.B. Dantzler followed with a two-run single to right for a 5-0 lead.
“It’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my career,” said Johnson, a junior. “It goes with them being a good-hitting team. They make you pay when you leave the ball up, that’s for sure.”
Moss (8-1), a sophomore right-hander, is expected to face freshman lefty Jack Wynkoop (7-3) on Monday.