The Clemson baseball team won the deciding game of its three-game series with archrival South Carolina most decisively.
Behind home runs by Chris Epps, Mike Freeman, Richie Shaffer, Addison Johnson and Phil Pohl, the Tigers blasted the Gamecocks 19-6 to capture the series before a Carolina Stadium-record crowd of 8,214 Sunday afternoon.
No. 13 Clemson improved to 9-1, while No. 15 USC dropped to 6-4 after losing its second consecutive weekend series. The Gamecocks dropped two-of-three to No. 14 East Carolina a week ago.
“It’s frustrating. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed for our fans. We’ve got to get better,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “Clemson outhit, outpitched and outplayed us all the way around today.”
Epps and Freeman, the first two batters in the Clemson lineup, each had three hits to lead the 14-hit attack.
“We hit on all cylinders offensively. We did a great job,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “We got some guys on base, and we got some big hits.”
While the Clemson bats disposed of eight USC pitchers, sophomore right-hander Scott Weismann (2-0) held the Gamecock hitters in check during six innings of work. He gave up five hits, two walks and two earned runs to go with five strikeouts. Leggett went with Weismann after a solid outing last season in Columbia.
“Scott Weismann did a great job for us. He felt comfortable down here. He had four good innings last year, and he responded well today,” Leggett said.
The Tigers put the game away in the sixth inning on Shaffer’s three-run blast into the Clemson bullpen. His two-out shot — the first homer of the freshman first baseman’s career — off reliever Jay Brown upped Clemson’s lead to 11-3 and sent the record crowd pouring into the aisles. The 19 runs, which featured grand slams by Epps and Pohl, were the most Clemson scored against USC in a single game since 1962.
“This is the first day (on the season) I felt like our pitching wasn’t there for us,” Tanner said.
After blowing a 4-0 lead in a 7-5 loss Saturday, Leggett was glad to see his team keep the pressure on Sunday.
“We talked about that. We got into a lull Saturday,” Leggett said. “We needed to play all nine innings, and we did today.”
The Gamecocks managed a couple of bright spots in the eighth inning. Scott Wingo, the regular second baseman who was playing shortstop in place of the injured Bobby Haney, hit a three-run homer. And leadoff man Whit Merrifield beat out an infield hit on a hard smash to third base to extend his hitting streak to 24 games dating back to last season. The junior is now just one game shy of the school record set by Greg Keatley in 1976.
But Merrifield was disappointed with the series result, especially the way it ended.
“Today was one of those days. You’ve got to move on,” he said.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley agreed.
“You can’t always win. We’re looking to flush it real fast,” he said.
USC starter Tyler Webb’s inability to throw strikes in the second inning proved costly. The freshman lefty loaded the bases with one out on two walks and a hit batsman. When he was unable to locate his breaking ball to Epps, the Clemson outfielder drilled a fastball over the center field fence for the first career grand slam. That ended the day for Webb (0-1) and finished his perfect ERA entering the game.
“I’m sitting dead-red, and I put a good swing on it,” said Epps.
Tanner called that a game-changer.
“That was a big blow. They got four runs with only one hit,” said Tanner, who added that USC will have open auditions to determine next Sunday’s starter.
The Tigers weren’t done as Freeman hammered reliever Steven Neff’s first pitch out of the park for a 5-0 lead. After another walk and a stolen base by Kyle Parker, Wilson Boyd dumped a soft single into left to make it 6-0.
“That was huge. It got us a little bit of a cushion, and we had some margin for error,” Leggett said.
It also helped give Clemson its first series win against the Gamecocks since 2006.
“It’s always satisfying,” Epps said. “We’re looking at it as a stepping stone.”