GREENVILLE – Beating the nation’s third-best team is hard enough – giving them extra opportunities certainly doesn’t help your chances.
No. 11 Clemson (6-3) knows all about that two games into the Reedy River Rivalry, as South Carolina (9-0) exploited the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses again to clinch the series with a 10-2 win at Fluor Field Saturday.
Emotions ran high early for Clemson starter Matthew Crownover with demonstrative fist-pumps after his two strikeouts.
Those feelings would turn on a dime for the sophomore southpaw, however.
South Carolina designated hitter Elliott Caldwell led off the third with a hard grounder Clemson second baseman Steve Wilkerson couldn’t handle – a fifth error in 11 innings for the Tigers. After a single off Max Schrock’s bat, the fielding miscues spread back to Clemson right fielder Steven Duggar – bobbling a routine single to his station and allowing Caldwell to score from second.
As Crownover (2-1) further labored, the Gamecocks’ bats kept the pressure on – shortstop Marcus Mooney ripping a 2-run single to right and right fielder Connor Bright slipping under Clemson catcher Chris Okey’s tag at the plate.
Crownover made it just 2 2/3 innings, a career-low for a start. The final damage was five runs – one earned, on five hits – and a lead Clemson could never put a dent in.
South Carolina has won four consecutive series against their rivals Upstate, and since 2010, 12-of-15 matchups.
“It’s a pitch here – pitch there,” Gamecocks second-year head coach Chad Holbrook said. “Foot here – foot there every time we play…It’s such a fine line. We’re evenly matched. We have a great tradition and great players in our dugout. They do as well.
“We’ve just been very fortunate. The ball has bounced our way so to speak. Each game is its own. Each season is its own. We’re trying to play well this year. “
Clemson coach Jack Leggett says the results of late don’t show the whole story either.
“Those that know what’s going on can see we play good baseball,” Leggett said. “That’s not something I’m focused on…They’re just a notch better and a few innings here or there. They’ve been close. We both have a chance to go where we want to go at the end of the year.”
South Carolina’s sophomore left-hander Jack Wynkoop faced a second-straight day with a pesky effort from the Tiger lineup. He was just able to limit the damage.
Duggar broke through with a one-out double to left field in the fourth, extending his team-best hit streak to 18 games. Two batters later, third baseman Jay Baum knocked him in to get the Tigers on the board. A South Carolina error put a pair in scoring position with two-out, where Wynkoop was able to get Weston Wilson swinging for the second time in as many at-bats.
The Virginia Beach native (3-0) scattered nine hits over six innings – throwing 110 pitches – with three strikeouts and offering up a lone walk. He has a team-best 19 strikeouts.
“Jack did a great job of getting us off to a good start,” Holbrook said. “He kept them at bay. His changeup was very, very good.”
Continuing a trend from the night before, the Tigers didn’t have any more luck against South Carolina’s relief.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and the heart of the order up. USC closer Joel Seddon made an early appearance, after earning the save Friday, and worked his way out of the jam with two strikeouts.
He worked three scoreless, hitless frames to take his third save of the season. Over the two games, Clemson has been held scoreless and to only three hits from the sixth inning on.
“We just didn’t throw enough strikes and our golden opportunity (was) to get back in it with the bases loaded and it was 5-2,” Leggett said. “If we scratch something together there, maybe we get something working for us. We just have to go back to work tomorrow. All there is to it.
“We gave them an opening in that second inning and they took advantage of it.”
The only fight the Tigers showed late was in a near-benches-clearing altercation in the ninth.
Running their total to six unearned runs, Mooney slid into third and Clemson third baseman Jay Baum had some words for him. Both managers took to the field, but nobody came to blows.
“It’s Clemson and South Carolina,” Holbrook said. “Emotions are going to get high from time to time. Their team and their dugout did a great job of controlling their emotions and our team did too. There’s some pretty strict NCAA rules on leaving your position and both teams handled it very, very well.”
The 50-50 split crowd set a Fluor Field record with 7,182 on hand.
Game three is set for a 4 p.m. start at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. A saving grace going into the Tigers’ series-salvager was sophomore lefty Zack Erwin going 5 1/3 of the final six frames to keep the bullpen fresh.