(NOTE: Here is a South Carolina baseball story from our Gannett partner, the Greenville News. Find more College World Series stories here at GreenvilleOnline.com. Arizona and South Carolina meet in the first game of the CWS championship series at 5 p.m. Tucson time on Sunday.)
By Willie T. Smith III
OMAHA, NEB. — University of South Carolina senior Michael Roth is used to being in the limelight and Saturday morning at TD Ameritrade Park he took full advantage.
Already cemented in history as one of the greatest pitchers in College World Series history, Roth proved he may also have a future in comedy as he kept everyone in stitches during the Championship Series Press Conference to preview the finals between the Gamecocks and Arizona.
Roth on Pac-12 baseball: “I can’t even lie to you guys: I’m not really a fan of baseball. I just like the game we play, so I don’t know anything about the Pac-12.”
Roth on the matchup: “The Hilton Hotel Battle Royal. That’s the new name for it.” (Both Arizona and USC reside in the same hotel).
Roth on beating Arkansas Friday night: “I did say to (USC) coach (Ray) Tanner last night. ‘Can you believe we’re in a position to defend our title with these knucklehead freshmen we have?’”
That has been Roth’s mentality since arriving in Columbia four years ago – speaking his mind and letting the chips fall where they may.
That’s probably easy considering the credentials he brings to the table.
Roth will probably break the record for most starts in the CWS on Monday, which would give him eight. Until then he is tied with Miami’s J. D. Artega with seven. He owns the record for most innings pitched at 53 2/3, which has led to a 4-0 career CWS record.
He was tied with teammate Matt Price for most wins until the latter claimed his fifth on Friday, and is also only the fourth pitcher in CWS history to throw a complete game with two or fewer hits allowed and no walks.
Both his collegiate complete games have come in Omaha.
Roth also won an Elite 89 award for having the highest grade point average of any athlete participating in the College World Series in 2011.
Roth smiles when asked if he ever looks back on the 2010 Men’s College World Series.
With the Gamecocks not only facing elimination, but arch-rival Clemson, Roth was tapped to start against the Tigers despite having served mostly as a utility infielder and situational reliever.
Although South Carolina coach Ray Tanner would have been pleased with a solid four inning performance from the sophomore left hander from Greer who played at Riverside High School, even he was stunned with what happened.
He pitched a complete game against the Tigers, allowing only three hits and a walk, while striking out four in a 5-1 Carolina victory that was the first of what became a 22-game winning streak in Gamecock NCAA baseball postseason games.
He returned a few days later with another solid performance against UCLA in what eventually became a 2-1 Gamecock extra inning victory to give the squad its first baseball national championship.
“I just made the most of an opportunity,” said Roth. “I am grateful coach Tanner and the other coaches were willing to give me that opportunity back in 2010. I was just able to seize it and take advantage of it. I’m grateful for that.”
Even that doesn’t explain the success Roth has acquired since. After leading his team to a 4-1 win over Kent State on Friday in an elimination game, the senior was at his finest, holding the Golden Flashes to a second inning run on two hits. He didn’t issue a walk, while striking out eight in the complete game win.
Roth faced only one above the minimum 27 batters in earning the victory in a performance that was so outstanding it even moved Kent State coach Scott Stricklin.
“To me that is why college baseball is so special, a guy like Michael Roth,” said Stricklin. “I think coach Tanner said the same thing three years ago. He was on the backside of the bullpen and now he’s a superstar. He is the biggest superstar our game has.
“He throws 85 miles per hour. He just knows how to pitch. He does everything the right way. He’s a great student. I have a ton of respect for him. I have enjoyed watching him on TV. I did not enjoy watching him today.”
Three days after helping the Gamecocks win their second national title, Roth took a month long trip to Spain to enjoy life.
“It was wonderful,” said Roth. “It was a great experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better month overseas. Actually one of my friends I met over there came to the game (against Florida). She goes to school in Nebraska. I got to see her. That’s the first person I’ve seen that I met in Alicante (Spain).
“It was just a wonderful experience to get away from the game. It gave me a break. It also gave me an appreciation for the game I think sometimes you may tend to lose when you’re here every day. As a high school baseball player or a college baseball player you don’t get an offseason. There is no offseason. We’re always going and going. I was fortunate enough to have that month which was my mini offseason where I didn’t have to pick up a ball and didn’t have to touch a bat and didn’t even work out.”
Tanner, who credits Roth with helping his loosen up, says there is a different side to his star pitcher.
“Michael is very humble,” said Tanner. “But since he became a pitcher, he’s been a guy who 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 for him. As a coaching staff we feel good about having him out there.”