Confident Tigers take aim at Gamecocks

by - Senior Writer -
Lee said the Tigers will decided on a game three starter late Saturday
Lee said the Tigers will decided on a game three starter late Saturday

CLEMSON – Monte Lee is ready for the best rivalry in college baseball.

Clemson’s first-year skipper takes his 6-1 Tigers into this weekend’s series against arch-rival South Carolina, and it’s a series that Lee – who grew up in South Carolina and coached for the Gamecocks – knows all about.

“It's a very exciting opportunity for me, for our players and the fans across the state. It's the greatest rivalry in all of college baseball, and I get a chance to be a part of it again,” Lee said Wednesday prior to his team’s practice at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. “I am very, very excited about the opportunity to be a part of this rivalry, to see our guys be able to participate in it and compete in it and I'm just looking forward to going down and seeing the challenge it will be for our team and our program playing against a very good South Carolina club.”

The Tigers reversed a recent trend of South Carolina domination in last year’s series, winning two of three. The Tigers won the opener 11-4 in Clemson, lost 4-1 in Greenville on Saturday but captured the finale with a 7-0 win in Columbia on Sunday. This year, the teams start out in Columbia - game one is in Columbia at 7 p.m. Friday, game two is at Fluor Field in Greenville at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the series finale will be at Clemson at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“It's very unique from that standpoint. You get to cover three different areas,” Lee said. “But it gives the fans an opportunity to see the rivalry and see the teams in three different locations and three different venues. It's a challenge for the teams playing in three different venues in three days, but it's what makes this rivalry very unique and special. I don't know of anybody else that does it this way.”

All-American catcher Chris Okey said he is looking forward to seeing how the Tigers respond on the road in a hostile environment Friday.

“It's something you'll remember for the rest of your life,” Okey said. “I remember my freshman year, I first went in that environment, and it was so fun. It's something you can go and reflect on and tell your teammates about. Going in, the rivalry itself is two historic programs going at each other and playing well lately. It's going to be fun.

“It's a little different at South Carolina. It's more of a hatred crowd. You go to those other environments where it's still very hostile, but there is a hatred towards Clemson University. It's on a different level. You'll hear a lot of things you've never heard before and when they come here they hear things they've never heard before, and that's what makes this thing so fun. It's the great intensity.”

The Tigers have won six in a row after a loss in the season opener, including a 7-0 win over Wofford Tuesday, and Lee said the Tigers are a confident bunch heading into the series with the Gamecocks.

“It's not about the won-loss record, it's more about how we've played,” Lee said. “I think our guys have played very well. We've pitched extremely well - that's been the constant - we've been very good defensively, and we've played well offensively. The team has been very consistent, and I've been pleased with the demeanor of the club. It's been fun to watch.”

Lee said the Tigers will start lefty Charlie Barnes (1-0, 2.38 ERA) Friday night while righty Clate Schmidt (2-0, 3.00 ERA) will get the start Saturday at Fluor. Sunday’s starter is up in the air, however, after lefty Jake Higginbotham’s (1-0, 4.32) struggles to start the season.

“What we're gonna do, we're gonna go with Barnes in game one, we'll go with Clate Schmidt in game two and then we will go TBA on Sunday,” Lee said. “We are going to see who we use out of the bullpen in game one and game two and try to make a decision after those first two games. It will be all hands on deck. We are going to try and win game one, and that's all we are really worried about right now. We will use whoever we have to pitching-wise to do so, and we are going to do the same thing in game two. Once the dust clears after game two, then we will make the decision who we will use in game three for that start.”

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