A day after South Carolina pitchers struck out 16 Clemson batters, the Gamecocks struggled to throw strikes Saturday afternoon against the Tigers.
Cody Morris and Gage Hinson issued eight free passes in the first four innings, and Clemson went on to earn a 5-1 win in front of 7,385 fans at Fluor Field in Greenville.
The crowd was the third-largest in Fluor Field history. The rubber match will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at Clemson.
The Gamecocks (7-4) walked 10 batters in the eight innings Clemson sent hitters to the plate. Both teams finished with seven hits.
“I think the difference in the ballgame was the number of walks that we issued. Both teams had seven hits, played good defense. The big difference is just the number of free passes we gave them today,” Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston said. “We need to be better there. We usually are. We’ll move on to tomorrow and try to do our best to win tomorrow.”
Clemson (9-1) got the first two hitters on base in each of the first five innings thanks to help from USC pitchers. After the Tigers failed to capitalize in the first and second innings, they got on the board in the third.
Patrick Cromwell drove in the first run of the game, hitting a sacrifice fly to score Logan Davidson and give Clemson a 1-0 lead.
USC evened the score at 1-1 on a solo home run by Madison Stokes in the fourth, but that was all the offense the Gamecocks managed.
Clemson regained the lead for good in the fourth inning when Seth Beer hit a sacrifice fly to score Grayson Byrd, and Patrick Cromwell hit a two-out single to score Bryce Teodosio. Byrd and Teodosio walked to lead off the inning.
“We kept getting guys on base. We kept putting together good at-bats. We took our free passes,” Clemson coach Monte Lee said. “We walked 10 times today, so that’s a big part of our offense. If we weren’t patient at the plate and didn’t take those walks, we’d have had a hard time scoring.”
The Tigers added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth inning when Kyle Wilkie drove in two runs with a two-out single to right.
The catcher entered Saturday’s game hitting .138 before finishing 2-for-4.
“Kyle Wilkie was the big hit of the day,” Lee said. “I told him if he had two hits today he’d be hitting what he bench presses, which is about 185.”
Morris (2-1) suffered the loss after allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked six batters with four strikeouts.
Hinson walked two and allowed two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, while TJ Shook and Parker Coyne did not allow a run, but each walked a batter.
Shook was South Carolina’s most effective pitcher, pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
“When you play with fire enough against a good team, it’s going to catch you at some point,” Kingston said. “We have a formula for winning, and it’s throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead of hitters. We just weren’t quite good enough there today.”
Mat Clark (2-0) earned the win for the Tigers, retiring the only batter he faced and recording the final out of the fifth inning. Ryan Miller pitched four scoreless innings to earn his first save.
“It’s great to get back in this series. Obviously, winning Game 2 was a must-win for us if we were going to try to get back in this thing,” Lee said. “Overall, we pitched and we defended very well and evened the series up. Now we get to go back to Doug Kingsmore for Game 3, so excited about the opportunity to try to see if we can win this series at home.”
What: South Carolina vs. No. 14 Clemson
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson
Probable pitchers: South Carolina TBA vs. Clemson’s Jake Higginbotham, So. LHP (2-0, 0.73 ERA)
Radio: 107.5 FM