The baseball hung in the air on a breezy night as a capacity crowd at Riley Park held its breath.
When it fell into the glove of a diving Evan Marzilli in center field, a classic game between the Gamecocks and archrival Clemson ended in a play befitting college baseball’s top rivalry.
Marzilli’s catch preserved USC’s 3-2 win in 11 innings Friday night and stranded the potential tying run on third base. The third-ranked Gamecocks continue to have the number of the No. 15 Tigers (4-3), who have lost 12 of the past 17 in the series dating back to 2008.
USC, which extended its season-spanning winning streak to 18 games, has won consecutive national championships because of the heroics of players such as Marzilli. The junior was determined not to let pinch-hitter Jay Baum’s hit fall in.
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“I thought off the bat, I had a shot at it, and all I could do was just run as hard as I could after it,” Marzilli said. “You don’t know if you’re getting to it until the last second, but I was lucky enough to get under it.”
USC coach Ray Tanner is never surprised by what Marzilli can do defensively.
“He makes those plays all the time in practice,” Tanner said. “When we’re taking batting practice, he’s not just a guy who stands around shagging (flyballs). He’s out there trying to make plays. Sometimes I tell him to be careful about diving, but he works at it. That was a tough play. The ball was sinking, the wind was blowing. He gets a great jump.”
The meeting between the rivals — who hadn’t played each other in Charleston since 1899 — drew a crowd of 5,851. The teams play the second game of the series at 2 p.m. today at Carolina Stadium. USC right-hander Matt Price (1-0) will face Clemson right-hander Dominic Leone (2-0).
USC closer Forrest Koumas (1-0) picked up the win with 22/3 innings of solid relief. The Tigers scored one in the 11th to trim the lead after a double by Richie Shaffer and an error on shortstop Joey Pankake. Another error, this one on third baseman LB Dantzler, put the tying run on third, but reliever Nolan Belcher got the final out for the save when Marzilli made his catch.
“This is the kind of a game it’s supposed to be with two pretty good teams going at it,” Tanner said. “It was anybody’s game.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett agreed.
“We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve had a lot of great games, but that might be one of the best games,” Leggett said. “It wasn’t the best result for us, but I’m getting on that bus tonight thinking we’ve got a good ballclub.”
The Gamecocks also got key contributions from their newcomers. Designated hitter Sean Sullivan and freshman Connor Bright, who entered the game in the 10th, delivered back-to-back, two-out RBI singles off Clemson reliever Daniel Gossett in the 11th to provide the margin of victory. The winning rally was started by Christian Walker’s four-pitch walk and a pinch-hit single by freshman Kyle Martin.
Sullivan, a junior transfer from Winthrop, was happy to contribute in his first USC-Clemson game, especially after going hitless in his first four at-bats.
“I was frustrated in some other at-bats, but I tried to erase those and just live in the moment. Fortunately, I was able to come through with a hit,” said Sullivan, whose brother Patrick pitches for the Gamecocks and whose father John played for and coached at USC. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The game quickly settled into a pitching duel between USC senior left-hander Michael Roth and Clemson junior right-hander Kevin Brady, who went six innings before departing with a 1-0 deficit after a third-inning RBI infield single by Walker. Roth kept the Tigers off balance into the seventh before the Tigers scored a run, which came on an RBI single to center by Jason Stolz.
Marzilli made a good throw home, but the ball popped out of catcher Grayson Greiner’s glove to even the score. Marzilli did, however, throw out a Clemson runner at the plate in the fifth.
Clemson’s best chance to win came in the eighth, but Spencer Kieboom struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Leggett was encouraged by the play of his team, especially in front of a raucous crowd against the two-time champs.
“The kids kept battling and we worked hard at it,” Leggett said. “If we play with that kind of resolve, and that kind of toughness all year long, we’ll have a pretty good season.”
Tanner liked how his newcomers and veterans blended together in a winning effort in an SEC-like atmosphere.
“This is the kind of environment we’re going to be in throughout the year,” he said. “Hopefully, what happened for those guys tonight makes them a little more comfortable as we go forward.”
|Evan Marzilli cf||4||0||0||0||1||2||8||1||0|
|Tanner English lf||4||0||0||0||0||3||1||0||1|
|Christian Walker 1b||4||1||1||1||1||0||9||0||0|
|LB Dantzler 3b||3||0||1||0||1||1||2||2||1|
|Grayson Greiner c||4||0||0||0||0||3||9||1||2|
|Kyle Martin ph||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Patrick Harrington pr||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dante Rosenberg c||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Joey Pankake ss||5||0||2||0||0||1||0||2||1|
|Sean Sullivan dh||5||0||1||1||0||2||0||0||1|
|Chase Vergason 2b||3||0||0||0||0||1||2||2||1|
|TJ Costen pr||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Connor Bright 2b||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Matthews rf||4||1||1||0||0||0||1||0||2|
|Michael Roth p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler Webb p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ethan Carter p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nolan Belcher p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Thomas Brittle cf||4||0||0||0||0||2||2||0||0|
|Steve Wilkerson 2b||5||0||2||0||0||1||4||2||0|
|Phil Pohl dh||5||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1|
|Richie Shaffer 3b||2||2||2||0||3||0||0||0||0|
|Spencer Kieboom c||3||0||0||0||0||1||14||2||4|
|Brad Felder rf||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jason Stolz ss||5||0||1||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Dominic Attanasio rf/lf||5||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||1|
|Garrett Boulware lf/c||5||0||1||0||0||0||5||0||1|
|Jon McGibbon 1b||4||0||0||0||0||2||8||1||1|
|Jay Baum ph||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Kevin Brady p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Campbell p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Daniel Gossett p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
E - Walker(1); Dantzler(1); Pankake(3). LOB - S. Carolina 9; CU 10. 2B - SHAFFER(3). HBP - Vergason; BRITTLE. SH - English(3); Dantzler(1); Matthews(2); S. KIEBOOM(2). SB - Marzilli(4).
|Forrest Koumas W,1-0||2.2||2||1||0||1||2||0||0||0||0||10||11||4||2||47|
|Nolan Belcher S,1||0.1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||0||5|
|Daniel Gossett L,0-1||1.2||3||2||2||1||3||0||0||0||0||7||9||1||1||38|
Win - Koumas (1-0). Loss - GOSSETT (0-1). Save - Belcher (1). WP - Roth(1). HBP - by Roth (BRITTLE); by CAMPBELL (Vergason). Pitches/strikes: Roth 102/71; Koumas 47/27; Webb 6/4; Carter 11/8; Belcher 5/3; BRADY 97/62; CAMPBELL 49/35; GOSSETT 38/24.
Umpires - HP: A.J. Lostaglio 1B: Tony Walsh 2B: Randy Harvey 3B: Jack Cox
Start: 6:01 pm