Just a Bit Outside-Rivalry Renewed
“Baseball’s back in South Carolina.”
That was how Gamecock skipper Mark Kingston opened his post game presser after the Gamecocks knocked off Clemson in the series opener this past Saturday at Fluor Field. That statement, small as it is could not ring any more true after this series. Why? Because for the first time in a long time, this series was interesting and exciting. It had all the makings of a fun rivalry series, and it definitely did not disappoint.
On Saturday, the series opened with a good old fashioned pitchers’ duel. South Carolina starter Thomas Farr was solid again, logging 6 innings, with 7 strikeouts, only 1 walk, and 1 run on 5 hits in his no-decision. The bullpen was also fantastic with a combined 9 strikeouts, surrendering only a run on 2 hits in 5 innings. Brett Kerry did a fantastic job of keeping South Carolina in the game and holding Clemson at bay through 3 innings of relief.
But, that was not the most impressive bullpen effort this weekend. Freshman Will Sanders absolutely shut the Tigers down on both Saturday and Sunday, picking up the win in both games on 1.2 innings of perfect work. Clemson pitching on Saturday managed to find a way to do something that so far has only been duplicated by Winthrop last night. They found a way to keep Wes Clarke off balance. The Tigers limited him by pitching him down and away and getting him to chase. He struck out 3 times, en route to a 1-5 game with only a single and an RBI. On the weekend, Clemson also did a great job of taking advantage of the Gamecocks’ aggression at the plate, seemingly always working ahead in the count.
Clemson pitching not only limited Wes Clarke, they kept South Carolina on their heels all game. They took advantage of Carolina’s aggressiveness and got them to get into twenty five 2 strike counts. In game one, the Gamecocks struck out 21 times for a new school single-game record. Taking on the role of Captain Obvious here.. 21 K’s doesn’t help you win games. Luckily for the Gamecocks, they countered by striking out 16 Clemson bats.
In spite of all the strikeouts, Carolina managed to hit the ball well, continuing the trend of making solid contact. They tallied 15 hits on the night, 4 of them for extra bases, of course the biggest coming on the clutch walkoff double in the 11th from Andrew Eyster.
Game 2 was the polar opposite of the opener. Usually the Sunday game in this series is a rubber match mired with intensity and with a lot of scoring. This one was just game 2, but it still had all the action and intensity of a normal Sunday game. Neither starter went long enough to qualify for the win, but both were effective. Clemson’s Davis Sharpe K’d 6 in 4.1 innings with no walks and 2 runs on 2 hits. Brannon Jordan had a similar line for the Gamecocks, but with 3 hits and 4 walks in only 4 innings.
Offensively, South Carolina cut down on the strikeouts drastically, with only 8 on the game. But, like on Saturday, they were working from 0-2 counts a lot. The difference is that the Gamecocks managed to adjust well and did a great job of protecting the plate and just taking whatever Clemson would give them to put the ball in play. Granted, the Tigers kept throwing lollipop fastballs down the middle when they got to 2 strikes. But, I don’t believe that to be why Clemson dropped this game. They got the desired result. Carolina had runners on every time, and they got ground balls. South Carolina just got the lucky breaks they needed.
The Cocks also managed to show one thing they are really going to need to have success during this rough schedule they have this season.. Resilience. They fought their way back on 3 occasions, 2 of them from being down a couple of runs. They adjusted well to adversity and found a way to not only come back, but win this series. Another positive from this series is that the Gamecocks committed only 3 errors in the series, an improvement over 5 from their first 4 games.
They also found a way to win when Wes Clarke was limited. Like I said last week, the way this offense was last year, it relied heavily on Wes being all the power on the team. This year, there is a lot more power on the team, but still the offense is set up to rely on homers and big extra base hits. However, when you are set up that way, there will be times when you run into a wall/go into a team slump, the power is lacking, and you just can’t score. That’s when you have to A) find a way to win & B) find a way to do it without your best hitter. Because, let’s face it.. As unreal and inhuman as Wes has been so far, eventually he’s gonna get IBB’d, pitched around, pegged, and go through slumps. They will have to fight through that. The Gamecocks did with the late-game adjustments and heroics of Andrew Eyster.
To briefly touch on the midweek shellacking the Gamecocks dealt Winthrop, that game can be summarized by 1 word. Errors. Winthrop is not a bad team. But they had a real bad night in the field. 7 unearned runs on 4 errors is not a recipe for victory. The Gamecocks did what any good team does and took advantage of mistakes, and continued to do their thing with the power at the plate, with 2 dingers from Eyster and Brady Allen, and a pair of doubles by Brennan Milone and Braylen Wimmer, en route to the 19-8 W.
This weekend the 7-0 Gamecocks will get 1 more non top-25 nonconference tune up series against Mercer and a midweek tilt with the Citadel before they take on Texas next week. Clemson opens conference play this week with Notre Dame after bouncing back and beating East Tennessee State in midweek action.