If lack of relevancy is why the Carolina-Clemson football rivalry doesn't get as much national attention as it should, then maybe Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney need to take some notes from their schools' baseball squads. In what was billed as the premier match-up of the weekend, South Carolina and Clemson put on quite the show.
The #4 South Carolina Gamecocks (9-1) outlasted the #4 Clemson Tigers (7-3) on Tuesday night to the tune of 5-4. The Gamecocks, as was the case the entire series, had trouble putting up runs in the early innings. It wasn't until the seventh inning on Tuesday night that the Gamecocks managed to touch up Clemson starter David Haselden for four runs. Carolina followed that up with a run in the eighth after Chrsitian Walker singled in Jackie Bradely, Jr. to give USC a 5-1 lead.
The Tigers didn't go down easily though. After loading bases in the ninth without recording an out, Clemson 3B John Hinson singled off of Michael Roth to bring the tigers within one run. Ray Tanner decided to go to the bullpen in hopes that closer Matt Price might prove more effective against the Tigers in the ninth. Price, you'll remember, gave up six earned runs to Clemson on Sunday while recording just two outs. Clemson went on to win that game 10-5. Ray Tanner knew what he was doing, apparently, because Price induced a double play before allowing a triple to Clemson's Will Lamb. In a performance that left no doubts about where Price's head was at after his dismal Sunday outing, he then struck out pinch hitter Phil Pohl to end the inning and the game. Pohl didn't even bother to offer at the last pith of the game.
More after the jump.
The win improves the Gamecocks to 9-1 on the season while the loss drops the Tigers to 7-3. Make no mistake, this Clemson squad is a good baseball team. The Tigers return much of the talent from a team that went to the College World Series last year before they came down with the nastiest case of deja-vu this side of FSU's "wide right" nightmare. Coming into Tuesday night's game, the Tigers were hitting .350 as a team and combined for 16 doubles and 71 RBI. The Clemson pitching staff was carrying an ERA just under 3.00 (2.92). I expect Clemson to make some noise in the ACC this year, a conference as tough as the SEC when it comes to baseball.
As for the Gamecocks, any win over Clemson is a good one. But as Gamecockrock put it, this series isn't all that important in the context of the season as a whole. Carolina still has a lot of questions to answer, not the the least of which is how will our pitchers perform once SEC play is underway. You can take everything we just "learned" from the Clemson series and essentially chuck it out the window (well, with the exception of Jack Leggett being a world-class bed-wetting mama's boy, of course). Rivalry games have a way distorting the facts, and baseball is no different. For one thing, I'd like to know if this team will continue to field poorly when the pressure is one. To be sue, Matt Price had an exceptionally bad day on Sunday, but he wasn't helped much by his defense. The Carolina defense did itself no favors this series. Evan Marzilli and Adam Mathews might need to make some adjustments to their playing depth as well as it seems both have let a few balls drop that last year they might have snagged. It's impossible to tell from way out here in the internet bleachers, but these are some of the things I'll be watching for as the season progresses.
Another story line to watch will be Carolina's bullpen. The Gamecocks and Tigers are very similar in that both teams appear to have solid starting pitching backed by an, at times, shaky bullpen. Matt Price's Sunday performance has more than a little bit to do with this perception, so it will be interesting to see if Price can resume his 2010 form. Keep an eye on Evan Marzilli as well. He appears to be in full-on sophomore slump mode right now. He's hitting just .250 in 32 at-bats. His counterpart in the corner outfield, Adam Mathews, is hitting just .222. If Carolina is going to make any noise in an extremely tough SEC East this year, we're going to need those two to contribute on a higher level. One bright spot has been junior Jake Williams, who is hitting .450 in 20 at-bats. Williams is a natural outfielder who has been DHing for the Gamecocks, so we might see him role into a position spot in Mathews doesn't improve his average.
The Gamecocks put in some work this weekend, and they deserved to take the series. They'll face Davidson in the mid-week game before taking on Cal State, Bakersfield at home.