I told you it would be an interesting series, didn't I? And in what is probably one of my only predictions to ever come to fruition, I even predicted some extra innings. This past weekend the South Carolina Gamecocks (43-17, 18-11 SEC) brought their streak of consecutive NCAA victories to 19 and in the process secured a birth in the Super Regionals. The Gamecocks began the weekend's festivities by squaring off with the #4 seed Manhattan Jaspers on Friday. When game time rolled around the #2 seed Clemson Tigers had already dispatched #3 seed Coastal Carolina 11-3, so Carolina was playing for a chance to rekindle the rivalry on Saturday.
USC's inaugural match of the 2012 post season began as a closely contested pitcher's duel. Manhattan ace Taylor Sewitt (11-2, 2.62 ERA) pitched 5 innings without allowing a hit until succumbing to the Gamecocks' bats in the 6th. The Gamecocks 6th began with a Joey Pankake lead-off double and an Evan Marzilli single. Christian Walker would then take 7 pitches to coax a base on balls out of Sewitt. After a fly out by L.B. Dantzler and a pinch-hit strike out by Michael Roth, it looked as though the Gamecocks might waste a golden opportunity to break the game open. Thankfully, Adam Matthews singled in the Syrupy Slugger and Evan Marzilli to end the tie. A triple by speedy freshman Tanner English added two more runs for the Gamecocks before the frame finally ended. Sewitt's performance might have appeared a bit more heroic had not Colby Holmes had an even more impressive outing. Holmes, whose last start lasted just 2.1 innings in the SEC Tournament, pitched eight innings of 1-hit baseball while striking out 9. Mind you, that one hit didn't occur until he had already recorded two outs in the eighth inning. Ultimately the Gamecocks put away the Jaspers 7-0.
Remainder of the regional recapped after the jump.
Saturday's match-up with the Clemson Tigers (35-28, 16-14 SEC) was every bit the game it was billed to be. The intrigue started in the Clemson 2nd, when Michael Roth loaded the bases with no outs. It seemed only a miracle could get the 'Cocks out of the inning unscathed, and that's exactly what happened. Roth induced a ground ball to the Short Stack Shortstop which resulted in a 6-4-3 double play. The intrigue occurred when the second base umpire called interference on Clemson runner Jon McGibbon. Upon reply it was clear that McGibbon hooked his left arm around Chase Vergason's leg as McGibbon was completing his slide into second. By rule, an interference call results in a dead ball, which in turn means that advancing runners must return to their base. The net effect of this call was Clemson having runners on 3rd and 2nd, two outs, and no runs. Naturally, the Clemson contingent was incensed, but I really do believe it was the correct call. If Jack Leggett doesn't want his players called for interference, he should teach them how to slide into second base according to the college rule book. It was a cut and dry play, and once interference had been called, those runners had to go back. It didn't matter that those runners had nothing to do with the play being made at second, you can't finagle the rule book according to a single situation.
The Gamecocks would take their first lead in the 4th inning off an Adam Matthews 2-run home run. Matthews, who is hitting only .241 on the season went 5-13 over the weekend (.384) with 6 RBIs. Clemson added 3 runs of its own in the 7th inning when they finally chased Michael Roth from the mound. Clemson appeared to have sealed the game when Brad Felder hit a solo shot the following inning that exited the stadium. Rather, I should say that judging by his bat flip, Felder thought he had just one games 5, 6, and 7 of the World Series in one swing. Alas, it wasn't to be. Carolina got one back in the eighth inning before adding another in the 9th. USC started the 9th with a pinch-hit single by Kyle Martin and a walk by Vergason. After a sac. bunt to move the runners over, Kangaroo Flapjack singled in the tying run. Costen, pinch running, scored easily, but Vergason was thrown out by a great throw and catch at the plate. Matt Price, Tyler Webb, and Evan Beal combined to hold the Tigers scoreless the rest of the way. It wasn't until the bottom of the 9th that USC ended the game. Pankake led off with a single and was eventually brought home by an L.B. Dantzler single. Final score: Gamecock 5, Tigers 4.
Clemson won its re-match with Coastal Carolina 5-3 amid more drama. The Tigers opted to start senior David Haselden (4-2, 3.78 ERA) in the Sunday re-match with USC. The decision would prove a fatal one as the Gamecocks scored 3 runs and chased Haselden after recording only two outs. Jonathan Meyer (2-5, 3.96 ERA) came on in relief and pitched the rest of the game to great effect. Carolina tacked on another run in the 6th and held on to win in the game 4-3. Clemson made it interesting in 9th, but this Gamecocks fan never lost his confidence -- which is rare. There were times during this series when I got the feeling Clemson might just be ready to break out of their slump against us. After their extra-innings loss to us on Saturday, though, you could just feel that this Clemson Tigers team didn't have enough gas in the tank to beat Carolina twice in two days.
It wasn't all coming up roses for the Gamecocks this weekend, though. USC batters hit just .279 this weekend. That's an encouraging sign if you're inclined to believe the competition they faced in the regional was much better than their average competition during the regular season. It's not so encouraging if you know that Clemson and Manhattan rank #114 and #132 in the NCAA in hits allowed per 9 innings, respectively. South Carolina, by comparison, ranks 3rd. Neither do Roth's or Price's regional numbers inspire an abundance of confidence. Roth might very well have been knocked from the game in the second inning had it not been for that interference call described above. I also have to question the logic in placing Sean Sullivan (.161 AVG.) at DH for the Saturday game. Ray Tanner is a coach who likes to go with experience in these types of situations, but what kind of experience are we really getting in a guy who has never played in an NCAA Tournament game, transferred in from Winthrop where he hit .288 last year, and is currently batting .161? Sullivan went 0-5 on Saturday with one strike out. I don't know about you, but I would have liked to have seen Kyle Martin (.323) or TJ Costen (.280) in that DH spot for five at-bats.
Regardless, Gamecocks fans have a lot to be thankful for after this past weekend. We beat a scrappy squad in Manhattan and a decent, if not good, team in Clemson. As always our team conducted itself in the mature and disciplined manner that we've come to expect from Ray Tanner teams. Complementing it all was the atmosphere in Carolina Stadium. It was palpable through the television, and I, at least, felt like I was part of the action while watching from home. There's still much baseball left to this season, but for now I think its enough to reflect on the accomplishments of another great South Carolina baseball team -- one in a long line of many. Folks, we have been witnessing history for some time around these parts. Care to see if it will threepete itself?