It may be a new year, but one thing has not changed in the rivalry between the South Carolina and Clemson baseball teams. The Gamecocks keep winning.
Third-ranked USC defeated the No. 11 Tigers 10-2 Saturday afternoon to clinch the regular-season series for the fourth straight season. The win also was the 12th in the last 15 meetings between the two dating back to the 2010 College World Series.
Sophomore left-hander Jack Wynkoop tossed six solid innings, and junior closer Joel Seddon slammed the door with three scoreless innings for his third save in front of a record crowd of 7,182 at Fluor Field, the home of the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
“We’re confident and we’re having fun,” Wynkoop said. “That’s proved to be a pretty good equation for us so far. We’re just going out there and playing as hard as we can.”
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The Gamecocks (9-0) conclude the series against the Tigers (6-3) today at 4 p.m. at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium. USC right-hander Wil Crowe will face Clemson right-hander Jake Long.
USC coach Chad Holbrook downplays the recent domination in the series – which includes 22 wins in 30 games dating back to the start of the 2007 season. He calls each season a new one.
“Clemson’s a great baseball program. They’ve been great for a long period of time. We have the utmost respect for them,” Holbrook said. “We’re evenly matched. We feel like we have a great tradition and we have some really good players in our dugout. They do as well. We’ve just been very fortunate. The ball has kind of bounced our way, so to speak.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett isn’t concerned about the direction of the series, which the Tigers lead 170-133-2 dating back to 1899.
“I’m just interested in how our team plays and where we finish at the end of the year. How we play against them is very important, of course, but at the same time, it’s not going to dictate how the rest of the season goes one way or the other,” Leggett said. “I’m proud of our program. Our fans should be proud of our program. Those who know what’s going on see we play good baseball. It’s not something I’m focused on.”
A calamitous third inning put the Tigers in a hole from which they couldn’t recover. An error by second baseman Steve Wilkerson opened the five-run inning, and things went downhill from there.
Singles by Max Schrock and Joey Pankake, along with an outfield error by Steven Duggar, scored one run and set up Kyle Martin’s sacrifice fly. Marcus Mooney later followed with a two-run single, and Tanner English got the fifth run home when he beat out a bunt. That knocked Clemson starter Matthew Crownover (2-1) out of the game.
“They’re an explosive team, and if you give them an opening and give them extra outs in an inning, it can cost you,” Leggett said. “We gave them an opening in that third inning, and they took advantage of it.”
Bright, Martin and Schrock led the 10-hit attack with two hits each, while Mooney had a three-RBI day. The Tigers cut the lead to 5-2 with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings off Wynkoop, who allowed nine hits and one walk, but they never got any closer.
“I wanted to pound the zone and let the defense work,” Wynkoop said. “The defense played great, and Coach (Jerry) Meyers called a great game. (Catcher) Grayson (Greiner), as always, did a great job back there.”
Clemson’s best chance to rally came in the seventh, when it loaded the bases with one out. But Seddon, who didn’t allow a hit in his three innings, struck out the last two batters to escape the jam.
“We battled our way back in it, and in our golden opportunity, we had the bases loaded with one out and came up dry there,” Leggett said. “If we scratch something across there, maybe things are a little bit different for us. We have to collect ourselves and go back to work (Sunday).”
Holbrook cited the poise of Seddon, who has allowed no runs and no hits in 7 2/3 innings this season, in that situation.
“He has been dynamite for us,” Holbrook said. “He’s throwing extremely well. He’s awfully tough, composed, he’s a veteran, he’s older and he’s been in the program.”
Frustrations boiled over for Clemson in the ninth inning, when the Gamecocks added five more runs on one hit, five walks and two errors. On an out play at third base to end the inning, Clemson third baseman Jay Baum and Mooney had a small skirmish that was quickly quelled.
Leggett had come out to argue a call on a close play at the plate when he alerted catcher Chris Okey to throw the ball to third. Both coaches called it a heat-of-the-moment situation that didn’t impact the game. No players were ejected.