The South Carolina baseball team started off this weekend's festivities with a 3-1 victory over heated (hated?) rival (15) Clemson Saturday afternoon. After an hour and 45 minute rain delay, the first pitch was thrown around 3:45 and the game was on. USC scored first when CF Whit Merrifield, who reached on a one out triple, was driven in on an RBI double by 1B Jeffery Jones. Both starters were in their groove early as the 1-0 difference persisted until the bottom of the 6th inning, when Clemson's Matt Sanders hit a solo shot over the left-center fence. Solo homerun not withstanding, USC starter Sam Dyson pitched a gem. He ended the day with one run, two hits, five strikeouts, and one walk in 6.1 innings of work. Freshman pitcher Nolan Belcher took over with one out in the seventh and proceeded to walk the bases full on three straight batters. After the third walk Tanner brought in senior Alex Farotto. Farotto pitched marvelously, getting Carolina out of the inning unscathed. Farotto would finish out the game without allowing another run. USC tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth for the win. Some thoughts to follow.
The gamecocks played well today and earned a hard-fought victory. One of the encouraging signs was the way USC’s pitching staff performed. Starter Sam Dyson pitched well by any metric, while Alex Farotto displayed the type of poise and ability that Gamecock fans have been longing for from a closer since Wynn Pelzer left. The score also doesn’t reflect the Gamecocks’ hitting prowess on the day. USC outhit Clemson by a 9-2 margin. That 9 hits didn’t lead to significantly more runs is more a testament to the mercurial nature of the sport than USC’s inability to capitalize with runners on base. What’s more, this is still a pretty young team recovering from some heavy offensive losses. You have to respect the fact that the Gamecocks were able to get nine hits off of Clemson’s #1 starter (who, by the way, apparently was once a Gamecock himself). It’s far too early in the season to make any judgments, but I like what this team has shown me so far.
The lone blemish on the day would have to be Nolan Belcher’s performance. The freshman was slated to start the Sunday match with Clemson, but apparently Tanner decided he’d rather have the experience of junior Blake Cooper on the mound. Whatever changed Tanner’s mind proved to be fortuitous, as the three walks delivered by Belcher did no damage to USC. Nolan belcher is sure to be a fine pitcher, but I think the pressure of pitching in an intense rivalry got to the freshman. Who couldn’t understand that? When I read that Tanner was giving the Sunday nod to Belcher, I had to pause for a moment. I’m sure Tanner had his reasons, but I like that Tanner went with proven experience over raw potential.
Bottom line, USC lengthens its consecutive win streak over Clemson to 5. On to the first of many in-state match ups to be played in Carolina Stadium.