After South Carolina lost to Clemson 6-3 Saturday afternoon at Fluor Field in the middle game of the three-game series to even it up, USC senior first baseman LB Dantzler noted the Gamecocks have a saying.
“We always say, ‘Win on Sundays.’ Tomorrow is a big game for us,” he said.
The Tigers turned the tables after Friday’s 6-0 loss on their home field by riding the strong right arm of freshman Clate Schmidt, who pitched very effectively in his first start against the No. 7 Gamecocks (7-2). He gave up just two runs on five hits in seven innings while striking out five as the Tigers (6-3) bounced back.
“He was locating really well. You’ve got to give him credit,” said Dantzler, who drilled a solo homer in the sixth. “He was able to keep us off-balance, and for a freshman, that was impressive. You’ve got to tip your cap sometimes.”
The teams play the final game of the set Sunday at 3 p.m. at Carolina Stadium. USC senior left-hander Nolan Belcher (1-1) will face Clemson senior right-hander Scott Firth (2-0).
“Clemson’s a good team. I said that (Friday) night. I knew it going to be a dogfight (Saturday), and I expect another one,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “There’s a great opportunity on Sunday to play at Carolina Stadium and win the series. That’s how we’re going to treat it.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett expected his team to play much better after the first-game loss, and the Tigers did just that. They outhit the Gamecocks 11-7, played sparkling defense, and got terrific pitching from Schmidt (2-0) and reliever Matt Campbell, who threw the final two innings for his third save.
Clemson senior center fielder Thomas Brittle who had two hits, an RBI and a diving catch liked the way his team responded.
“We let one slip away from us (Friday) and didn’t play our best,” Brittle said. “We wanted to come out here and be aggressive early in the game. We got a couple of things going early and were able to hold onto the lead late. It’s pretty good to beat a good program like that, and hopefully we can carry the momentum (to Sunday).”
Holbrook knows how much both teams want to win the rivalry series -- the Gamecocks have won 19 of the last 27 meetings dating back to the start of the 2007 season -- but he understands there are still 47 regular-season games left to play.
“I don’t think they’re the team they’re going to be in May or June, and I don’t think we are either. We’re still trying to find ourselves. Listen, it’s an important series,” Holbrook said. “Win or lose, it’s not going to dictate the rest of our season, and it’s not going to dictate the rest of Clemson’s season. It’s just an important series to win. It’s going to be like a Super Regional feel, and it’s a good audition for us.”
Schmidt (2-0) tossed five scoreless innings before South Carolina finally broke through with back-to-back solo homers by Max Schrock and Dantzler. Schrock’s homer was the first of his career, and Dantzler’s long blast was his team-leading fourth of the season. The long balls sliced Clemson’s lead to 5-2.
“Schmidt pitched a whale of a game for them. He kept our hitters off-balance pretty much all seven innings he was in there. We couldn’t really get a good hack off him other than the two swings Max and LB put on him,” Holbrook said. “He certainly pitched beyond his years. He deserved a ‘W’ today.”
The Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead off USC starter Colby Holmes (1-1) in the second inning on Garrett Boulware’s RBI double and Tyler Krieger’s RBI single. Clemson knocked Holmes out of the box in the fifth with three more runs. The Tigers collected four hits in the frame, with a two-out RBI single by Steve Wilkerson off Holmes followed by a two-run single by Steven Duggar off reliever Adam Westmoreland.
“We had a good approach today against an experienced pitcher,” Leggett said. “We got some big hits with two outs and big hits with men on base and two-strike hits. We battled really well offensively.”
The teams traded late runs. USC’s Grayson Greiner drilled an RBI double in the eighth, but Brittle answered with an RBI single in the ninth.
“The offense and defense did outstanding. I didn’t have to worry about a thing on the mound. When we needed runs, they got runs for me,” Schmidt said.
In the end, Clemson did what it had to do to set up the rubber game.
“It’s going to be another great game. It always is,” Schmidt said.