By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Matthew Crownover can’t wait for Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. to get here. That’s when 3,000 Clemson fans will pack one side of Fluor Field on the West End of Greenville, S.C. and 3,000 South Carolina fans will pack the other side.
It will be loud. It will be crazy. It will be Clemson-Carolina.
“That is going to be a great experience. These are the kinds of games you dream about as a little kid,” said Crownover who will get the start on the mound for the 11th-ranked Tigers on Saturday afternoon.
It’s also the kind of game that makes the Clemson-South Carolina games the best series in college baseball. The two storied programs have played for more than just bragging rights over the years. They have played for regional and national championships in Columbia, Clemson and Omaha.
When these two get together, there is always something on the line.
“There is hatred, honestly. The people are angry,” said Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware. “They want to win so bad everyone is kind of going after each other’s throats.
“It doesn’t really have to do with any of us on the field. Those are kids I grew up playing with so I personally have no problem with the players I’m playing against, it is just South Carolina as a whole. The South Carolina vs. the Clemson fans, it is another game where everyone wants to win so bad they are going after each other. It’s going to be pretty crazy.”
The Tigers and Gamecocks will get the three-game series started Friday in Columbia at 7 p.m. The third-ranked Gamecocks will start Jordan Montgomery on the mound against Clemson ace Daniel Gossett. Then, unlike any other rivalry in the country, the two instate rivals will reconvene on Saturday in Greenville for Game 2 as Crownover goes against Jack Wynkoop.
This will be the fourth time the Tigers and Gamecocks have played at Fluor Field with USC owning a 2-1 edge in the other three meetings. Clemson won there last season, 6-3, for its only win in the three-game series.
The atmosphere in Greenville is always at its best when the Gamecocks and Tigers tangle there. Both teams have big alumni bases in the area and both, as mentioned above, are very well represented at Fluor Field. Plus Greenville is a little more than an hour drive from Columbia and only a 35 minute drive up Highway 123 from Clemson.
“Every year is always a little different because the new guys have not seen it before,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “You can’t understand the atmosphere until you see it and feel it. It is always an adjustment time for those guys, I imagine. But the older guys who have seen it before for three or four years, you just hope it works to your advantage.”
Instead of a regular season game, the atmosphere in Greenville always seems more like a tournament game.
“It kind of gives it a March Madness kind of feel,” Crownover said. “To me it does, anyway. It is going to be a fun atmosphere and I think it is going to be a great game.”
The two teams will meet back in Clemson on Sunday at 4 p.m. for the series finale. The Tigers will send Jake Long on the mound, while the Gamecocks will throw freshman Wil Crowe.
“I would think this is one of the better rivalry games and weekend series in the country,” Leggett said. “The three venues that we play at, everybody sells it out. There are people all over the place. There is a lot of interest since this is an intrastate type rivalry.
“It makes it a big deal and we are excited about the opportunities we have ahead of us. They have a long season ahead of them and we have a long season ahead of us. This is a big three-game weekend and hopefully it will catapult one or both teams into a good place by the end of the year.”
Gossett, who grew up in Lyman, S.C., understands completely what the rivalry is all about. He grew up a Clemson fan and he understands the kinds of investment the fan bases make and how desperately they want to own bragging rights.
“It is always fun. Everyone is going to be into it. Everyone is invested,” he said. “We are going to be going at them and they are going to be coming at us and our fans are going to be going at them and their fans will be going at ours. That’s just how it works.
“As a competitor is makes me excited. I know that the fans are invested. They are there to watch us. Everybody is invested. It is awesome.”