Fans looking for a classic duel between USC right-hander Wil Crowe and Clemson left-hander Matthew Crownover didn't get what they expected.
The Tigers jolted Crowe for eight runs in the first three innings and held steady for a 11-4 win Friday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium to claim the opener of the three-game series.
Crownover pitched just well enough to collect the win over his five innings of work, as the Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak to the Gamecocks that dated back to the 2013 season. USC coach Chad Holbrook gave credit to what he called the dynamic players in the Clemson lineup, which has scored double-digit runs in four of the last five games.
"You have to play at a high level, and we didn't play at a high enough level tonight," Holbrook said. "They pushed us around tonight."
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USC, which had won six straight games after losing its season opener, dropped to 6-2 on the season. The Tigers improved to 6-2 after winning their fifth straight game. The teams play the second game of the series Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Greenville's Fluor Field.
"I feel like we played really well tonight. We had a great approach going into the ballgame. We had a really good focus. The kids, I could tell when they showed up today, had a purpose in mind," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "We got some punches in early, which was big. We scored four and that got the momentum on our side."
Crowe (1-1) entered the game with an 0.87 ERA, while Crownover (2-0) began it without having allowed an earned run in his first 13 innings of the season. But Crowe gave up nine runs on 11 hits in his six innings.
"You can tell when Wil is on if he's down at the knees," Holbrook said. "Right out of the gate, he was up, probably a little bit juiced and ready to go. His adrenaline was rolling and the ball was getting away from him a little bit. It flattens out when it gets up in the zone."
The Tigers scored four runs off Crowe in the first inning and four more in the third inning to take an 8-0 lead. Chase Pinder highlighted the first-inning rally with a two-run triple, while Team USA catcher Chris Okey and Wilson blasted home runs in the third. Okey's three-run shot was followed by Wilson's solo job.
"I was just leaving the ball up really," Crowe said. "I wasn't getting all the way through my pitches. When I did leave it up, they capitalized on it."
Okey was pleased the Tigers were able to set the tone early against the Gamecocks, who had won 13 of the previous 16 meetings between the teams going back to 2010.
"With a team of that caliber -- they're fantastic -- to jump on them early was huge," Okey said. "It was big to get those runs on the board. Anytime you get a win over them, it's big time."
Wilson added a game-clinching three-run homer off USC reliever Reed Scott in the seventh inning.
The Gamecocks had fought back in the fourth when Connor Bright's three-run homer scored Max Schrock and Kyle Martin, who led off the inning with consecutive singles off Crownover.
Bright added an RBI fielder's choice, assisted by Wilson's error at third base, in the fifth inning to help the Gamecocks slice the lead to 8-4. But USC's other chances fell short, as it left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings. Martin looked like he had a two-run single through the right side in the fifth, but the ball hit Schrock for the rally-killing third out.
"I don't know how that happens on a ball that's going to get in the hole. We could have gotten a little bit closer, but we didn't do enough," Holbrook said.
Bright, who had a career-high four RBIs, agreed with that assessment.
"We didn't catch a couple of breaks. That's the way the ball drops sometimes," Bright said..
Crowe, the sophomore who was making the first Friday night start of his career, pitched into the seventh, but he dug too deep of a hole for USC to rally. Clemson left-hander Alex Schnell threw four scoreless innings to get the save.
"I tried my hardest to stay out there as long as I could to help the bullpen out," Crowe said. "We needed to fight back. We weren't able to (do that) so tomorrow and Sunday are huge."
Leggett feels the same way from the winning side.
"Obviously, you want to carry it over. Tomorrow's a new day," Leggett said.