A few thoughts heading into this weekend’s USC-Clemson series--
-- These three games between the two programs are as highly-anticipated as any I can remember during the regular season in the many years of the rivalry. After what happened in the College World Series, with the Gamecocks eliminating Clemson on the way to their first national championship, the stakes got higher for everyone involved, from the coaches to the players to the fans. With both teams returning many of the key players from last season, these games are going to have the feel of a post-season matchup. It should be intense on the field and a lot of fun to watch from the stands.
-- This format, which is in its second season, is a winner. Playing a best-of-three series early in the season, when both teams can run their top pitchers out there before the start of conference play, means a clear-cut winner will emerge. The previous format of a two-game weekend series and a pair of midweek games always seemed to dilute the impact of the games. Both Ray Tanner and Jack Leggett really like this format. The only thing that may change is the site of the third game. Fluor Field works well because the travel isn’t bad for both schools, and the game is well-run and well-supported in Greenville. Another possible site is the Charlotte Knights stadium in Fort Mill. It’s twice as large as Fluor, and it’s easy to get to for both teams. There has been talk about a third game on the coast, either in Charleston’s or Myrtle Beach’s minor league park, but the travel logistics get much more complicated for both schools, especially when playing three games in three days. It’s hard for me to see the coaches agreeing to go that far in the other direction for a third game.
-- Everybody is looking at the weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday and wondering if rain is going to affect the series. It doesn’t look promising with the chance for precipitation being in the 80 percent range, especially on Saturday. Let’s just hope it doesn’t wipe out one of the games or cause a lengthy delay. (Who can forget that brutal delay during USC’s CWS opener against Oklahoma?) If Saturday got postponed, you’d have to think Monday might be considered as a potential makeup day.
-- Maybe you can argue there’s a better rivalry in college baseball, but this one has moved to the top for a few reasons. Both of these programs are fixtures in the postseason, both have top-notch facilities, and both consistently draw about as well as any team in the country. Both are led by two of the best coaches in the sport, and both have long-standing tradition. While some fans may not like the rival school, the fact that both are very good helps make the other one better. These two programs push each other to greatness. There’s real respect between Tanner and Leggett, and that carries over to the players. The coaches not only recruit good players, but they recruit good kids. Neither side likes to lose, but both have the ability to acknowledge how good the other one is when it happens. What they’ve both accomplished not only is good for college baseball in our state, but it also presents the schools in a positive light nationally. This series can match up with any of them, from Florida to Texas to California.