COLUMBIA, S.C.—It takes more than just two passionate fan bases that despise one another to make a premier rivalry. Sure, mutual antipathy helps, but every region has heated feuds.
What makes Clemson-South Carolina the best rivalry in college baseball is that it has also delivered one epic game after another, between two programs that are national powers just about every year. Over the years, great players have done great things in this rivalry. And that's exactly what happened Friday night at Carolina Stadium, in a game that will surely go down as one of the most memorable contests in the modern era of this series.
South Carolina trailed 6-1 after four, but a fifth-inning grand slam by preseason All-American Grayson Greiner electrified the sellout crowd of 8,242 and brought the Gamecocks back within a run. They surged ahead for good with two runs in the sixth, en route to a 9-6 victory.
"It was a great night for our team. It didn't look that good in the fourth inning there," said South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook. "But I was really proud of my team. They responded the right way. We talk about handling adversity all the time, and they were tested tonight, and they handled adversity. Our kids played awfully hard, they competed every pitch. It took that to win tonight."
Tyler Krieger's three-run double highlighted Clemson's four-run fourth inning against South Carolina ace Jordan Montgomery, and the Tigers tacked on another in the top of the fifth to go up by five runs. Montgomery was not sharp, as he left a number of balls over the middle of the plate and elevated, including a few times with his normally stellar changeup.
But he minimized the damage in the fifth, as Clemson had runners at second and third with no outs, but Montgomery stranded them both by striking out the next three hitters in order. At that point, the momentum started to shift.
"That's kind of the calling card for Carolina baseball—just never give up. We still have plenty of at-bats there," said Greiner, South Carolina's junior catcher. "Honestly, I think the turning point of the game was Jordan Montgomery. It was 6-1, I think there were runners on second and third, nobody out, and he struck out three straight guys. A lot of guys would crumble in that situation, they wouldn't want to be on the bump. But he wanted to be out there, and that just shows Jordan's character."
After South Carolina loaded the bases against Daniel Gossett on an error, a single and a walk in the bottom of the frame, Greiner came to the plate with one out.
"Definitely, when Grayson was up, everyone kind of had a feeling that was going to happen," Montgomery said. "I had a feeling he was going to do it, and then he did it."
The count ran to 2-0, and Holbrook later said he never considered giving Greiner the take sign. Greiner crushed a fastball from Gossett into the tunnel just left of the bullpen beyond the left-field wall, bringing South Carolina back within a run.
"You could feel a little bit of the energy back in the crowd, and I think that was kind of the turning point momentum-wise," Greiner said. "Once we got that big hit, everyone in the dugout felt like we could win it, and at-bats just got a little bit more consistent, and we were able to find a way to get a win."
Greiner added an RBI single in the sixth to plate the go-ahead run. He finished 3-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs. It was the kind of standout performance by a star player that we have come to expect from this fantastic series.
"He's the heart and soul of our team. There's not anybody I'd trade Grayson Greiner for," Holbrook said. "The way he handles our pitching staff, you want him up in a big spot. He's just a great baseball player. He really is a gifted baseball player. And he responded. That was an incredible swing of the bat. I was more impressed with the knowledge that he gives off to our pitchers and coaches in the dugout. It's not normal. I feel like I learn from Grayson Greiner every day. Not many kids that I can say that about."