COLUMBIA — Chad Holbrook was pleased with what he saw from his team when it was down 6-1 going in the fifth inning against in-state rival Clemson.
Were the No. 3 Gamecocks in an ideal situation at home? Of course not, but Holbrook felt “energy” from his players.
“I was sitting there 6-1 proud of my team,” Holbrook said. “I was proud of the way our guys went after it.”
USC starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, who didn’t have his best stuff and had just allowed four runs in the fourth inning, turned momentum by striking out the side in the fifth after allowing another run and set the stage for heroics from Grayson Greiner, who hit a game-changing grand slam to get the Gamecocks within a run.
USC 9, Clemson 6
Tigers' 5-run midgame lead erased
USC then scored two runs in the sixth to complete the rally and hold off the Tigers behind 2.2 solid innings of relief from Cody Mincey (1-0) to take Game 1 of the series, 9-6.
“They were tested tonight and they handled the adversity,” Holbrook said about his team. “Our kids played awful hard and they competed every pitch. It took that for us to win tonight.
“We beat an awfully good team tonight. It was a big win for us.”
The Gamecocks (8-0) beat the Tigers (6-2) for the 21st time in the last 29 meetings behind Greiner’s five RBI. The two teams head to Fluor Field in Greenville today for Game 2 at 2 p.m.
In what was supposed to be a pitching duel between two guys among the best Friday night starters in the country, neither ace had their best stuff.
Gossett had some dominant frames early, striking out seven Gamecocks in the first four innings, but was tagged for five runs (three earned) on seven hits through just 4.2 innings. He finished with eight strikeouts but walked three and had two wild pitches.
“That’s just the way he’s been for the three years we’ve faced him. He’s an electric pitcher,” said Greiner, who was 3-for-4 on the night. “We were fortunate to get to him. He sort of shut us down there early.”
It was also an uncharacteristic outing for Montgomery, who allowed his first run in 35 innings in the second. He went on to be charged with six runs (five earned) on seven hits through 5.1 innings. The junior lefty walked a career-high five batters but did finish with nine strikeouts in 107 pitches.
“I thought our offensive approach was really good against Montgomery,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “We got some big hits in that inning when we needed to. We were in great shape. The momentum changed when we had two men on base with no outs and he struck out the side in the top of the fifth. Complexion of the game changed.”
Clemson, which recorded eight hits and committed four errors, broke open a 1-1 game in the fourth with its big run.
Montgomery walked two batters in the frame and gave up an infield single on a close play at first to load the bases with two outs. That set up Tyler Krieger’s three-run double to left-center that put the Tigers up 4-1. Garrett Boulware, who went 2-for-4, followed with an RBI double off the left-field wall to increase the lead to 5-1.
Clemson tacked on another run off Montgomery in the fifth after a bad throw by the pitcher to third on a fielder’s choice got past Joey Pankake to allow Steven Duggar to score before Montgomery struck out the side.
Gossett’s trouble in the fifth started after Pankake reached on an error with one out before Martin singled to right. Connor Bright then drew a walk to load the bases. That set up a huge bomb to left field by Greiner, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 6-5 on the grand slam.
“Baseball might tell you there to be on the conservative side but … I got a 2-0 fastball I could handle and I was fortunate to get it out of the park and get a little energy back in the crowd,” Greiner said. “Once we got that big hit, everyone in the dugout thought we could win it.”
The Gamecocks then got into Clemson’s bullpen and gained control of the game in the sixth when Bright beat out a double play attempt on a fielder’s choice that scored Elliott Caldwell to tie the game off Tyler Bates (0-1). With two outs, Greiner singled to short, scoring Max Schrock from third to give USC a 7-6 lead to complete the rally.
Tanner English doubled the lead in the seventh with his second career homer on a solo shot to left. USC added another run in the eighth before Seddon recorded his second save of the year when he got out of a two-on, no-out jam created by Mincey, who struck out four Tigers in the game.
“We’ve got less than 12 hours to get back on the field,” Leggett said. “We’ll be ready to play (in Greenville) and bounce back. There’s a lot of heartache through the course of the year every year. This was a tough moment for us tonight.”
Follow Brad Senkiw on Twitter @bsenkiwaim