By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
No offense to Presbyterian College, but Clemson’s game against the Blue Hose on Tuesday was a bit of a bother.
The Tigers did not overlook their first midweek opponent of the 2014 season. It was all hands on deck for the 4-2 victory.
But now, with all others behind them, the only opponent on Clemson’s radar is the one whose presence inspires the most vitriol from the fan base. After having to avoid the subject altogether for weeks and months, now the Tigers can fully turn their attentions to their in-state rivals to the east.
“We still played a good game against (Presbyterian),” catcher Garrett Boulware said. “But yeah, on Sunday and Monday, after we had gotten that win (against Maine), we were just kind of ready for this day to come so we could focus solely on South Carolina.”
Tensions will run high among fans all weekend long, and the emotion is not lost on the players and coaches involved. They understand the stakes, which is why there is more emphasis placed on these three games by the average spectator.
The Gamecocks are off to a blazing start. A 7-0 record is only trumped by the fact that they have won by an average of seven runs per game and are currently in the midst of a stretch where their pitchers have thrown 51 consecutive scoreless innings.
“They’re kind of on a roll,” Friday starting pitcher Daniel Gossett said. “That adds a little bit of fuel to the fire.”
Head Coach Jack Leggett understands the sentiment. He has been preaching the one-game-at-a-time mantra since the season began on Valentine’s Day, but he understands the allure of looking past some of the lesser opponents on the slate to one of the most important series of the year.
A year ago, Clemson peered into the unknown as it gazed ahead to its matchup with South Carolina. Several key players were new to the rivalry—not an ideal scenario. Now many of those contributors are a year older and wiser, which makes Leggett’s job easier.
“The new guys haven’t seen it before,” he said. “You don’t get the atmosphere until you see it and feel it. It’s always an adjustment for those guys, I’d imagine.”
“Last year, we didn’t know what we were going to get against them,” Boulware said. “Obviously, they were a good team, but we weren’t sure how we’d stack up against them. This year, I think it’s going to be a really fun game.”
The series starts on Friday in Columbia, with games in Greenville (Saturday) and Clemson (Sunday) to follow. The best-of-three format allows for a lone victor to emerge, and sometimes the stakes can overwhelm players and coaches.
Clemson’s lack of recent success against South Carolina is the epicenter of much discussion surrounding this series. Matthew Crownover—the lefty slated to face the Gamecocks on Saturday—says he hopes to leave the past in the past.
“We are playing the 2014 Gamecocks. We’re not playing the 2010 team,” he said. “They’ve got a great program, a great team. They’ve got a top ten team this year. But every year is different.”
Hence, another chance to write another chapter in this storied rivalry. Now the Tigers can focus solely on writing it.