Tigers' S.C. natives aim to turn around rivalry

Clemson's Daniel Gossett (23) pitches against Maine.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson's Daniel Gossett (23) pitches against Maine.

CLEMSON – Clemson ace Daniel Gossett knows the score both personal and team-wise in the rivalry series with South Carolina.

The junior right-hander (1-0) will take the mound in Columbia Friday opposite Gamecocks junior lefty Jordan Montgomery (2-0) for a 7 p.m. first pitch.

Last season, they faced off in TigerTown in what shaped up to be a classic.

Gossett ready for Friday start v. Gamecocks

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Montgomery held Clemson scoreless on two hits, while Gossett contained South Carolina to a run on three hits through six innings.

An error in the top of the seventh opened the floodgates for the Gamecocks, however, for three unearned runs off Gossett. Meanwhile, Montgomery continued to keep Clemson off the scoreboard in eight shutout frames.

“I faced him in high school and a couple years in college,” Gossett said. “I’ve always been on the wrong side of it so hopefully we’ll try to go up there and change a little something.”

As S.C. natives, they weren’t always in opposite dugouts.

Gossett played on an all-star team while in high school with the Sumter product, alongside part two of the Clemson battery, junior catcher Garrett Boulware. They dreamed about games like the stage they’ll have this weekend for one in the Midlands and two in the Upstate.

“We were all just waiting to see what would happen down the road,” Boulware said, “and now we’re here. It’s weird. It’s surreal. It’s going to be pretty crazy to see ‘Goose’ and Montgomery on the mound (together again).”

Almost half of No. 11 Clemson’s roster hails from the Palmetto State (18), and the numbers are similar for the third-ranked Gamecocks (17).

“It’s always you grow up a Clemson fan or a South Carolina fan in South Carolina,” sophomore right fielder Steven Duggar said, who takes a team-leading 16 game hitting streak in. “It’s going to be a good time for sure. We’re just excited to get it going.”

Gossett is a prime example of that either/or.

“I grew up being a Clemson fan and I was always invested in the South Carolina-Clemson series,” he said. “After I pitch on Friday, I get Saturday and Sunday to be a kid again. I get to sit back and watch awesome baseball. Because I know it’s going to be good baseball no matter what. Being able to do that is pretty special.”

Gossett has plenty of friends who will be wearing garnet and black this weekend, but the dynamic changes when they get on the field. The Tigers recognize the same goes for the stands.

"There’s hatred," Boulware said. "People are angry. They want to win so bad that they’re going at each other’s throats. Not even us on the field, I grew up playing those guys. Personally I don’t have any problem with the players I’m playing against, but just South Carolina as a whole.

"The South Carolina fans versus the Clemson fans, it’s another game and everyone is wanting to win so bad. Everyone is going after each other. It’s going to be pretty crazy."

After an Opening Day loss, Clemson’s won six in a row coming in. They rank second in the ACC in team batting led by sophomore shortstop Tyler Krieger (.500 BA/8 runs) and the catcher combo of Boulware (.429 BA/9 RBIs) and freshman Chris Okey (team-leading 11 RBIs).

Stacked against a USC pitching staff that’s pitched five-straight shutouts, the Tigers’ arms don’t quite compare, but over 30 2/3 innings, their weekend starters have fired 29 strikeouts to three walks.

Upperclassmen righties Clay Bates and Matt Campbell have the bullpen go-tos thus far. Bates, a sidearmer, has a sub-0.60 WHIP in 5 2/3 innings with six strikeouts and no walks. Campbell, a senior, earned his first save Tuesday against Presbyterian and is one of four Tiger hurlers with a sub-.200 opposing average (min. 2 appearances).

Tigers prepare for Gamecocks

First of three-site series is in Columbia

“I like where we’re at,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett. “Hopefully I’ll like where we’re at come Monday. It’s a marathon for us where we try to get better and better each time out. I’m excited. This is why you come to Clemson to play in these type of games and these type of venues. Against this type of competition.”

Of no coincidence, the last time Clemson won at the Gamecocks’ Carolina Stadium – was also the last time they won the regular season series, in 2010 (2-1).

The Tigers have managed to win at least one from the last three installments, but counting the postseason, they have lost 10 of the last 13 to their rivals downstate.

“We’re just going to go down there and stay within our approach and not treat it any differently,” Duggar, a Moore native, said. “It’s just another weekend and hopefully we’ll continue to play (good) baseball.”

Follow Brandon Rink on Twitter at @brink_aim and OrangeandWhite.com at @orangeandwhite.

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