Tigers and Gamecocks Set to Renew Rivalry

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Not that he wants to vacate Doug Kingsmore Stadium, but Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett can't help but wonder what his team would draw in a game vs. South Carolina in a larger venue.

"We could probably double what we're doing, I would think," he said Friday. "If it was in the right venue it could probably draw 10-12,000 people. I might be wrong, but I think that's a realistic number."

As it is, close to 6,000 people will try to jam their way into Doug Kingsmore at 2 p.m. today for the first of four meetings between the Tigers and the Gamecocks. The teams will trek to Columbia for a 1:30 p.m. meeting Sunday at Sarge Frye Field.

For Clemson (5-5), the two games represent a chance for Leggett's young team to gain much needed confidence before opening the ACC schedule next weekend. For the Gamecocks (13-1), it's a chance to continue their early-season success and lay groundwork for what they hope will be yet another trip to the College World Series in Omaha.

It's also a meeting of two markedly different scheduling philosophies.

Clemson's schedule through 10 games has been extremely difficult by Leggett's own admission. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, have played a number of games against inferior opponents such as Longwood, Radford and Niagra.

Yet it is USC who has been to Omaha three straight years, and again Friday Leggett found himself answering questions about his scheduling during his media teleconference - schedules that often are made 2-3 years in advance without knowing which players are going to be on the roster or gone to the professional ranks.

"I guess I just like the competition personally, plus I think in the end it prepares our team for close ballgames," he said. "We'll just have to see how it all works out. We've been doing it here for 12 years now, so it's nothing earth-shattering.

"We've always played a good schedule. It can cause you some frustrating moments at times because you don't have much margin for error. But at the same time it can also challenge the team and make us better before it's all over. That's the goal of it."

Scheduling philosophies aside, the rivalry usually produces close, exciting games for fans of both sides to enjoy.

The intensity of the meetings has turned up a notch since USC eliminated Clemson from the 2002 College World Series with back-to-back victories. By the time the first pitch is thrown today, the crowd will be so large that no one will be allowed inside the stadium once the gates are closed.

That includes university employees.

"I think it's as good a rivalry as there is anywhere in the country," Leggett said. "There's a lot of passion on both sides, a lot of fan interest and a lot of competition. It's been a good rivalry that way. I don't think there are many (in the country) as strong as this one."

And along with the expected rise in intensity, Leggett hopes this is the weekend his team begins showing some much-needed consistency.

"Sometimes we pitch pretty well and don't hit very well," he said. "We've been playing good defense, so I can't complain about our defense. I hope that continues. But we've got to be consistent with our hitting from top to bottom so we know what we're going to get.

"We've got to be consistent every time we take the mound, knowing what we're going to get out of each pitcher so we can make better, educated decisions about who to put in the ballgame."

Clemson will send junior righthander Josh Cribb (1-0, 2.76 ERA) to the mound today. He'll be opposed by USC senior righty Aaron Rawl (3-1, 2.25).

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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