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First crown leaves Gamecocks crowing

OMAHA, Neb. — South Carolina provided a perfect send-off for Rosenblatt Stadium.

Almost two weeks ago, Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner was soaking up the atmosphere during the opening ceremonies for the College World Series when he let his mind drift.

"It dawned on me, it would be wonderful to go deep into this thing and be around at the end," Tanner said. "I know the new stadium will be very special and a great facility.

"But this is history. And we’ll be a part of the College World Series and Rosenblatt for a long, long time."

They sure will, after Whit Merrifield’s RBI single with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning gave South Carolina its first baseball national championship with a 2-1 victory over UCLA on Tuesday.

The Gamecocks (54-16) won six straight games after losing their CWS opener against Oklahoma. They became the third first-time champion since 2006 after sweeping the best-of-3 series.

Each team had plenty of scoring chances, but had difficulty converting in Rosenblatt’s finale before the event moves to a new downtown stadium next year.

A video tribute to the stadium, fireworks and a trumpeter playing a slow version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" finished Rosenblatt’s 61-year run as the CWS home.

"To be the last team to win it here, that’s amazing," said winning pitcher Matt Price.

It was the fifth championship decided in an extra-inning final, and first since Southern California topped Florida State — also 2-1 — in 15 innings in 1970.

"You start in February with 300 teams and you get a chance to go to postseason, and maybe to a super regional, and then you have things go right for you and you go to Omaha," Tanner said. "And you get to play in the national championship series. And you’re the last team standing.

"Just a wonderful, wonderful time for our players and coaches."

Merrifield was surprised UCLA closer Dan Klein didn’t intentionally walk him and Jackie Bradley Jr., the CWS Most Outstanding Player, to set up forces all around and a possible double play.

"When I saw the catcher squat down, I knew I had something to prove. They wanted to get me out," Merrifield said.

Scott Wingo drew a leadoff walk and took second when catcher Steve Rodriguez, perhaps distracted when Evan Marzilli squared to bunt, let an inside 1-0 pitch get past him. Wingo moved to third when Marzilli got a bunt down, and scored when Merrifield drilled Klein’s 2-0 pitch past the pulled-in outfield of the Bruins (51-17) and into right field.

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