The South Carolina baseball team was right where it wanted to be heading into the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. With a two-run lead and closer Forrest Koumas on the mound, the Gamecocks were eyeing a three-game sweep of rival Clemson.
But Phil Pohl hit a two-run homer in the eighth to tie the game, and Steve Wilkerson lined a walk-off, RBI single an inning later as the Tigers salvaged a 6-5 comeback victory in the final game of the series.
That handed the third-ranked Gamecocks (9-1) their first loss as the No. 15 Tigers (5-4) head into ACC play next weekend.
USC coach Ray Tanner smiled and said he knew his team wouldn’t win every game this season, but he believes the Gamecocks will take something away from the loss.
“We’ll bounce back,” Tanner said. “We were in a position to win today, but maybe we didn’t deserve to be. They outpitched us, they outhit us. We played hard and we fought, but they were a little bit better today. In the end, they came up big.”
The Gamecocks took a 4-0 lead in the second inning after a three-run homer by freshman catcher Grayson Greiner, the first of his USC career. Clemson cut the lead to one by roughing up USC starter Colby Holmes before Greiner belted another homer in the sixth to push the lead back to 5-3.
That was the score when Koumas (1-1), who picked up the win in Friday night’s 11-inning victory, entered the game. But he promptly walked Richie Shaffer, who was 6-for-9 in the series with two homers, and gave up a homer to Pohl to even the score.
“I pitched right where I wanted it,” Koumas said “It was right there, (but) he just went down and got it. He put a good swing on it.”
One inning later, Jon McGibbon singled to start the ninth and moved to second on a sacrifice. Wilkerson then delivered the game-winning single on a 3-1 count, although Koumas wasn’t unhappy with his pitches.
“I felt like he (the umpire) started squeezing right there in the last inning. Those sliders were right there on the money,” Koumas said. “He (the catcher) didn’t move the glove. I thought he (the umpire) had a totally different zone. So I had to throw it right down the middle. That’s what happens when you have to do that.”
Tanner said that he expects Koumas, a starting pitcher last season who’s new to the closer’s role, to come back strong.
“Koumas has been a guy for us who has pitched really well, so we were in the right spot, but you’ve got to give Clemson some credit for putting some good swings on it. It was a big hit by Pohl,” Tanner said. “ This will be motivation for (Koumas). I know he’s not happy with the results today, but he got beat by a good club and some really good hitters. He’ll have to make some adjustments to be better.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett liked how his team avoided the first sweep, which would have been USC’s first in the series since 2008. The Gamecocks have won 16 of the past 23 meetings dating back to the start of the 2007 season.
“The kids are showing a lot of toughness. That’s the best thing we’ve got going for us right now,” Leggett said. “We’ve got a little bit of grit, we’ve got a little toughness, and we’re going to play all nine innings. We overcame a very tough second inning today where we didn’t play very well. We kept our poise and kept battling back.”
A pair of errors in the second inning led to Adam Matthews’ RBI single and Greiner’s first home run for four unearned runs off Clemson starter Kevin Pohle, who left after five innings. Reliever Scott Firth (1-0) followed and threw four strong innings, allowing only the home run to Greiner in the sixth. A strong wind pushing out to left made conditions tricky for the outfielders but also played a role in four balls leaving the park.
Shaffer and Matthews, who went 5-for-12 with a homer and four RBIs in the series, won the annual MVP awards given to each team and named after two former sports information directors, Clemson’s Bob Bradley and USC’s Tom Price.
Shaffer was relieved to get the win in the final game.
“We battled all weekend and really had nothing to show for it until tonight,” Shaffer said. “We deserved to win with the kind of effort we put in this whole weekend. The ball didn’t go our way Friday and Saturday, and finally we got some huge hits and executed when we needed to.”
Matthews was pleased to claim the series victory but disappointed about letting the sweep slip away.
“We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some improvement to make, offensively, defensively, all-around. I don’t think we’re where we need to do and where we’re going to be,” Matthews said. “I hate that it turned out the way it did today, but Clemson’s a good team. Take nothing away from them. We’ve got to learn from this and move on.”
|Evan Marzilli cf||5||0||1||0||0||2||4||0||0|
|Tanner English lf||5||0||1||0||0||1||3||0||1|
|Christian Walker 1b||5||0||0||0||0||1||7||1||2|
|LB Dantzler 3b||4||1||0||0||1||1||1||2||0|
|TJ Costen dh||3||0||1||0||1||2||0||0||1|
|Kyle Martin ph||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Joey Pankake ss||3||1||0||0||1||1||1||0||0|
|Adam Matthews rf||4||1||2||1||0||1||3||0||2|
|Grayson Greiner c||3||2||2||4||1||0||5||0||0|
|Chase Vergason 2b||4||0||2||0||0||1||1||1||1|
|Colby Holmes 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||1||0|
|Forrest Koumas p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Thomas Brittle cf||3||0||0||1||1||0||0||1||3|
|Steve Wilkerson 2b||6||0||2||1||0||0||0||5||6|
|Richie Shaffer 3b||2||2||2||1||3||0||1||2||0|
|Phil Pohl c||5||2||2||2||0||1||10||0||0|
|Brad Felder rf||4||0||0||0||1||2||1||0||2|
|Garrett Boulware lf||4||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||3|
|Tyler Slaton pr/lf||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Costigan dh||4||1||1||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jason Stolz ss||5||0||2||0||0||1||2||4||1|
|Jon McGibbon 1b||5||1||3||0||0||0||10||1||0|
|Kevin Pohle p||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Scott Firth p||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||0|
Note: 1 out, 1 runner LOB when the game ended.
E - Dantzler(2); Pankake(6); Holmes(1); WILKERSON(3); SHAFFER(4); BOULWARE(1); FIRTH(1). DP - CU 1. LOB - S. Carolina 9; CU 16. 2B - Costen(1). HR - Greiner 2(2); SHAFFER(4); POHL(3). SH - BRITTLE(1). SF - BRITTLE(1).
|Forrest Koumas L,1-1||1.1||3||3||3||1||1||0||0||0||0||7||9||2||1||29|
|Scott Firth W,1-0||4.0||3||1||1||2||5||0||0||0||0||15||17||2||4||56|
Win - FIRTH (1-0). Loss - Koumas (1-1). Save - None. WP - Holmes(1). Pitches/strikes: Holmes 81/52; Webb 45/24; Carter 23/12; Koumas 29/18; POHLE 85/56; FIRTH 56/34.
Umpires - HP: Randy Harvey 1B: Jack Cox 2B: A.J. Lostaglio 3B: Tony Walsh
Start: 2:04 pm