Carolina takes 2 of 3 from Clemson on rivalry weekend
As expected, the Carolina / Clemson series this weekend was fantastic. This rivalry is my favorite weekend of the regular season. It is always a series of really good baseball, intensity, and determination to best the other team. Plus it’s usually pretty entertaining to see how creative each fan base can be when it comes to heckling.
I couldn’t make it to Friday night’s game in Charleston, though apparently my cousin was visiting Charleston and his hotel room overlooked center field, which meant that he got to see Evan Marzilli’s game ending (and game saving) catch. I, on the other hand, was straining to hear the outcome of the game over the noise of the bar where my friends and I were spending our Friday night. I did make it to Saturday’s game, where I discovered that it would be much better if my seats were on the aisle so I could get up and pace when the Gamecocks make me nervous. By Sunday, someone who knows something about college baseball finally decided that one of the best rivalries should be able to be watched by the masses, so the computer got hooked up to the TV and I got to see the Gamecocks on the big screen, courtesy of ESPN3.
Friday night. The Gamecocks scored first on a Christian Walker single in the third. Clemson answered in the seventh on an RBI single from Jason Stolz. The game remained tied until South Carolina broke it open in the 11th with two runs on a pair of singles from Sean Sullivan and Connor Bright. As Clemson stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th, the Gamecocks held the lead, 3-1. A Richie Shaffer double and a Joey Pankake error brought Clemson within one with one out. A strikeout and a throwing error by LB Dantzler had runners on the corners with 2 outs and Clemson down by one. Thankfully for the Carolina faithful, Marzilli made a spectacular diving catch of a Jay Baum line drive to end the game. First game of the series goes to the Gamecocks.
Saturday afternoon. After barely being able to hear the exciting finale of Friday night’s contest, I was ready to head to Carolina Stadium to see some baseball. It was an awful day in Columbia – the threat of rain was ever-present, it was windy, and it was chilly. But without an announced delay, I headed to the ballpark early so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Apparently the Clemson team didn’t get the same memo as everyone else, as they didn’t bother to show up for the game until about 1:30. The game was supposed to start at 2. I’m still not sure where the information breakdown occurred, though the rumor is that Clemson was told not to leave Charleston until game time was determined. If anyone has any insider information, I’d love to hear it. “Arrivalgate” moved the start time back to 2:45. Maybe the delay helped the Gamecocks, because they came out swinging. And I do mean swinging. Thanks to a 3-run home run from Adam Matthews and a solo shot from LB Dantzler, the Gamecocks left the Tigers in the dust and never looked back. Despite Matt Price not quite reaching his normal levels of total domination, and two more errors from Pankake, the Gamecocks pulled off a 9-6 victory. Thankfully, freshman pitcher Evan Beal really stepped it up when he entered the game in the fifth, retiring the first nine batters he faced. Between solid relief pitching and timely hitting, the Gamecocks won the game and won the series.
Sunday afternoon. A win on Sunday afternoon in Death Valley would have been a thing of beauty. I wish it had happened. That said, we still won the series, and Clemson is left celebrating a hollow victory. Adam Matthews continued to be an asset at the plate, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Freshman catcher Grayson Greiner had a great day too, smashing a pair of home runs to left field. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Clemson’s third baseman and catcher, Richie Shaffer and Phil Pohl, also had stellar days. Shaffer had been a pain for the Gamecocks all weekend, and by Sunday, the Carolina pitching staff was pitching around him. Of course, that meant dealing with Phil Pohl. Pohl hadn’t done too much harm though. At least not until the eighth inning when he launched a pitch over the left center field wall to tie the game. The Gamecocks had a chance to pull ahead in the ninth, but instead left two runners stranded. Thanks to a sacrifice bunt and a pair of base hits, Clemson took game three of the series, winning 6-5.
A Few Observations.
Joey Pankake. I know a lot of the Gamecock faithful are concerned about Pankake’s four errors this weekend. I’m not, and here’s why: 1. He’s a freshman. The kid has played exactly 10 games in a Carolina uniform, three of which were against the Gamecocks’ arch-rivals. He has to be nervous. 2. Peter Mooney. Y’all remember how shaky Mooney’s defense was at the beginning of last season? He settled down and made some huge contributions to the CWS Title. 3. Ray Tanner. I have an absurd amount of faith in Coach Tanner. He’s been doing this for a long time. If he didn’t see something special in Pankake, Pankake wouldn’t be starting at short. 4. The second base question. It’s got to be a little tough when your middle infield partner changes every day. I think that once the 2nd base question is resolved, Pankake will settle down a little too.
The 2nd Base Question. Chase Vergason did a pretty nice job in the field this weekend, though his bat may still leave a bit to be desired. I said last week that I thought whomever started this series would end up winning the starting spot. I’m standing by that prediction. Vergason has a little more experience (he’s a JUCO transfer), he’s steady in the field, and though he doesn’t spend a lot of time on base, he makes productive outs. The other options at 2nd are freshmen T.J. Costen and Connor Bright. I haven’t seen Costen play in the field yet, but after making a huge out trying to stretch a double into a triple on Sunday, I’m a little concerned. Speaking of, does anyone know if that was Costen’s decision or if Holbrook was waving him around? Bright has done an excellent job in the field and has done ok at the plate too. It really will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
Evan Beal. I was really impressed with this kid this weekend. He’s got some great stuff, and he seems like the kind of pitcher who will continue to grow during his time here.
Gamecock Pitching. Through 91.1 innings, Carolina pitchers have combined for 100 strikeouts. That’s an average of about 10 Ks per game. That’s amazing. Especially when you consider that during that time, they have only walked 26 and given up 49 hits. This certainly bodes well for the remainder of the season.
This week’s games:
3/7 at 7 p.m.: USC vs. UNC-Asheville
3/9 at 7 p.m.: USC vs. Princeton
3/10 at 4 p.m.: USC vs. Princeton
3/11 at 1:30 p.m.: USC vs. Princeton
The Gamecocks are now 9-1 on the year. At the time of this post, updated rankings were not available.