South Carolina players celebrate with teammate Scott Wingo, center, who… (Ted Kirk / Associated Press )
It was a hidden ball trick that worked a little too well.
Not even the player who took the last ball in play from the final College World Series at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium knows exactly where it is now.
When UCLA right fielder Brett Krill scooped up South Carolina's walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning in his final college game last June, he thought of what the ball might mean to the Bruins, not the Gamecocks.
"I thought I was going to use it as motivation, put it up in our locker room to get us back to Omaha and win it," Krill said in a telephone interview earlier this week.
Well, it certainly provoked someone.
"People are talking about crazy stuff," said Whit Merrifield, the South Carolina outfielder whose heroic hit lifted the Gamecocks to their first national title.
"Driving out to California to get the ball back."
Turns out it might be right around the block.
Krill said he gave the ball to a friend who was a South Carolina student, instructing him last summer to give it to its rightful owners.
So the ball is presumably in Columbia, S.C. -- but in the wrong hands.
"They're deserving of the ball," Krill said of the Gamecocks, who are vying for a second consecutive national title this week in Omaha. "They're the national champions."
Alas, a year after taking possession of the ball, Krill's friend has refused to hand it over. Not that he hasn't tried to benefit from the historic memento.
Cameron Schuh, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations, said Krill's friend was unwilling to return the ball when contacted by representatives from college sports' governing body. Instead, the student attempted to sell or exchange the ball for South Carolina football season tickets. His efforts were rebuffed.
Krill, who now plays for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes, a Class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, said he's not sure what else he can do. He doesn't want to disclose his friend's name because he doesn't want him to endure a public backlash.
That said, Krill acknowledged frustration that a conversation with that friend a few weeks ago didn't result in any progress. There were no promises made about giving up the ball.
"You never really know about your friends, I guess," Krill said.
Rosenblatt Stadium was 62 years old and even before last year's College World Series, NCAA officials addressed the significance of the ball from what would be the final play. Coaches and athletic officials from each of the eight participating schools were informed before the first pitch that the ball would be the property of the NCAA, which likely would have displayed it at its Hall of Champions museum in Indianapolis.
UCLA has made repeated attempts to retrieve the ball from Krill, school spokesman Alex Timiraos said.
But Krill said, "It's really out of my hands. I have no control of what he's going to do with that baseball."
Merrifield, who now plays for the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks, a Class-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, said it might be too late anyway.
"At this point, it's hard to even know that that would be the ball," Merrifield said. "The ones we used were the same as the ones that were being sold out on the concourse. We signed thousands of balls that looked like the balls we played with."
There's one way South Carolina can ensure itself of getting the final ball this year -- in the first College World Series at sparkling new TD Ameritrade Park: Preserve a lead in the last inning of the final game.
"Hopefully, if they win it," Merrifield said, "they'll be on defense and be able to keep the ball."