Clemson Scores Big Win Against Rival South Carolina

Image credit: Clemson third baseman Blake Wright (Photo courtesy of Clemson/Brooke Russell)

Going into Friday’s opening round of the storied Clemson-South Carolina rivalry series, the pressure seemed to rest squarely on the Tigers. They had lost four straight games after getting swept at home by UCF and then losing Tuesday to South Carolina-Upstate in Greenville.

Suddenly, Clemson was 4-4 under first-year coach Erik Bakich heading into a series against South Carolina, its hated in-state rival that was off to a flying 9-0 start to the year. But the Tigers weren’t dwelling on their disappointing week.

“We knew that the way we played the last four games had no bearing and no impact on the way we’re capable of playing in this rivalry series,” Bakich said. “That was the message. We needed to get back to being the aggressor and I thought our guys did that. They came out with a boxer’s, a puncher’s mentality.”

That mentality was apparent from the start Friday night. Righthander Austin Gordon, who was starting in place of injured lefthander Ryan Ammons, started the game with a 1-2-3 first inning on 14 pitches. Cooper Ingle then hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the inning on Will Sanders’ first pitch of the game. Clemson pushed another run across in the first on back-to-back doubles from Blake Wright and Cam Cannarella and, all of a sudden, the Tigers were off and running.

“That was a great tone setter of a first inning for Austin to go 1-2-3 and then Cooper hit the first pitch out,” Bakich said. “I don’t know if you could script it better than that. We would sign up for that every time.”

Clemson pushed that advantage throughout the early going and went on to defeat South Carolina, 5-2. The Tigers (5-4) handed the Gamecocks (9-1) their first loss of the season and pushed their winning streak in the rivalry to five games.

Friday’s game was just the first of three this weekend and it won’t have homefield advantage in the next two, as the series moves to Greenville, S.C., on Saturday and ends Sunday in Columbia, S.C. The Tigers know they have to win at least one of those games to make this a successful series. But considering the circumstances, Clemson walked away with a vital win Friday.

Not only did the Tigers snap their losing streak and drop the Gamecocks from the ranks of the undefeated, they did so by beating Sanders, a Preseason All-American and projected first-round pick. Clemson got to Sanders for five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk in six innings. The five runs and nine hits both matched career highs for Sanders.

“They were aggressive,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said. “That was clearly their plan. They were going to be aggressive on him. Again, it was a good baseball game. Will wishes he would have done better, but you can take a lot from a game like this.”

Not only did Clemson get to South Carolina’s ace, it also quieted the Gamecocks’ powerful offense. South Carolina came into the day leading the nation in home runs (27) and averaging 11.7 runs per game (fourth nationally). On Friday night, Clemson held South Carolina to zero extra-base hits and two runs.

Gordon and righthanders Jackson Lindley and Casey Tallent combined for a big night on the mound, one that was especially important with Ammons unavailable. The trio filled up the strike zone, walking just two batters (though both scored) and holding the Gamecocks to 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Friday night was a quality, much needed win for the Tigers, though it wasn’t perfect. Clemson committed four errors, struggled at the plate in big spots (it also went 1-for-7 with RISP) and ran into some outs. Clemson is naturally still a work in progress—it’s just nine games into Bakich’s tenure—and it has a tough road ahead in the ACC’s rugged Atlantic Division.

But after a big Friday night win in one of college baseball’s premiere rivalries, it’s easy enough to set all of that aside. After a tough week, Clemson dusted itself off and produced a thrilling night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The Tigers hope Friday night is just the first taste of that kind of night this season—and beyond.

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