|by Nikki Steele|
The Tigers held a two-run lead entering the ninth inning, but four two-out hits sealed Clemson’s fate as the Gamecocks went on to a 5-3 win and series sweep Sunday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in a controversial last few innings.
This was South Carolina’s first series sweep since 2008, when they won all four games, and the first time either team has swept a three-game set since 1977.
Freshman Jake Long and sophomore Clate Schmidt had combined to pitch a near flawless game, giving up only one run on five hits and one walk, while striking out nine through the game’s first eight innings; however, the bottom of the Gamecock’s order refused to allow their team to lose.
Schmidt started off hot before the Tigers’ undoing in ninth. Kyle Martin singled up the middle with one out and Schmidt struck out Connor Bright, seemingly ending the Gamecock’s hopes, but three consecutive singles and a double from the Gamecocks’ bottom part of the order was too much for Clemson to overcome.
Included in that series of plays was a play at the plate where freshman catcher Chris Okey appeared to tag out South Carolina’s Grayson Greiner, but Okey dropped the ball after the tag. If he had held on, Clemson would have held on for the 3-2 win. Instead, Greiner scored the tying run and two runs later the Gamecocks had the win.
Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said that he felt like his team was in control for most of the game, but once again a big inning led to the Tigers demise.
“We are obviously disappointed. We hate to lose any game,” a disappointed Leggett said after the game. “We hate to lose that game. I really felt like we were in control the whole time until the last inning. I felt really good about where we were. I felt really good about how we were playing. We had a great crowd here. I think there’s going to be a lot of good things to come out of here before we’re done. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out how we wanted it, but we have to keep on working.”
The Tigers got off to a quick start, scoring the game’s first run in the first inning. Tyler Slaton led off with a single through right side and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Krieger, before scoring on a single up the middle by Steven Duggar.
It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Gamecocks got on the board. D. C. Arendas came up with runners on the corners and nobody out, but hit into a fielder’s choice where Connor Bright would be tagged out at home. Arendas advanced to second on a fielder’s choice by Marcus Mooney and scored on a soft-hit single to left field by Tanner English, tying the game at 1-1.
Clemson answered in its half of the sixth inning as Garrett Boulware led off the inning with a single to centerfield and advanced to third on a single through the right side by Duggar. Okey hit into a double play, but Boulware scored, giving Clemson a 2-1 lead.
The Tigers added an insurance run in the seventh inning. Baum singled through the left side to lead off the inning and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Jon McGibbon. Slaton hit a single through the right side just past the out-stretched gloves of the first and second basemen that plated Baum for a 3-1 Clemson lead.
Despite losing the rivalry series and losing , Leggett said that there are some positives that he can take away from this series in terms of how his is capable of playing.
“We played well in spurts all weekend. We had them where we wanted them Friday night and we let it slip away,” Leggett said. “We had them where we wanted them tonight and this one slipped away. Give credit to the fact that they came back and took advantage of those opportunities. We’re not going to let this define this team this season. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
Clemson travels to Cullowhee, N.C. on Tuesday for a 4 p.m. tilt with Western North Carolina.
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Nikki Steele can be reached at email@example.com