When Clemson left Columbia on Friday night, it appeared obvious to anyone in attendance at Founders Park that South Carolina was the better baseball team.
Clarke Schmidt, the younger brother of Clemson pitcher Clate, pitched wonderfully as he went eight innings, gave up no runs, allowed just five hits and had nine strikeouts. Designated hitter Alex Destino went 5-for-5 and had four runs batted in in the Gamecocks’ 8-1 victory.
South Carolina pitched well, played better defense and made the timely hits that are necessary to win games in a series as big as the Palmetto State Rivalry.
But the last two days proved to us who the better team really was. As it turned out, Clemson just had a bad night in Columbia, which in a long baseball season is going to happen from time-to-time. By the time the sun had fallen on Sunday evening it was obvious to everyone that watched Saturday’s and Sunday’s baseball games, Clemson was clearly the better team.
“I’m just so proud of the way our team played,” said Clemson coach Monte Lee, who was coaching in his first Clemson-South Carolina series as a head coach. He spent six seasons (2003-’08) in Columbia as an assistant to former USC head coach Ray Tanner, now the athletic director at South Carolina.
“I thought we were confident going into the series,” Lee continued. “But I can’t imagine (winning the series) wouldn’t help build confidence within a ball club after losing on Friday night and then winning the next two to win the series against a club that is a top-20 club in the country.
“I think it says a lot about our team. It says a lot about the makeup of our players. How tough our players are. How competitive our players are. Our guys did not panic. We lost that game. Our guys were disappointed. They had short memories. We moved on from it and we bounced back and found a way to win it.”
Clate Schmidt and Pat Krall teamed up to pitch a two-hit shutout in Game 2 on Saturday, while striking out 10 Gamecocks. Chase Pinder hit a triple and had a home run, while catcher Chris Okey had a three-base hit as well, while driving in three more runs in a 5-0 victory at Fluor Field in Greenville.
In Game 3, freshman Alex Eubanks continued the Tigers’ mastery on USC hitters. He went 7 2/3 innings, allowing only one run on six hits, while fanning eight and walking just one. Alex Bostic came on with one out in the eighth to record the save as he only allowed one hit and struck out two in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory to clinch the series.
Clemson (8-2) did not have a bunch of hits, but it made them when it needed them the most. Pinder, the winner of the Bob Bradley Award as the Most Valuable Player for Clemson, again had two hits and drove in another run, while Andrew Cox drove in two more runs with a clutch hit in the bottom of the fourth inning, which turned out to be all the Tigers would need the rest of the afternoon.
“I sat back and watched a group of players compete between the lines and have fun and do it together,” Lee said. “I was just so impressed with the way we bounced back. South Carolina whipped us really good on Friday night, and for us to respond the way we did on Saturday taught me a lot about our team.”
The Gamecocks (10-2) pitched well. Their team ERA for the weekend was 2.88. In 25 innings, their pitchers allowed just 10 runs on 18 hits, while striking out 22 batters, walking 11 and hitting five.
At the plate, Destino was 7-of-12 (.583) for the weekend with his four RBIs, while Marcus Money hit .333 for the three-game series.
As good as South Carolina’s numbers were, the Tigers’ were even better. Clemson outpitched the Gamecocks in Games 2 and 3 and it showed in its final numbers.
The Tigers had a 2.08 ERA. They gave nine runs on 21 hits in 26 innings. They recorded 27 strikeouts, walked just eight batters and hit only one.
At the plate, only Pinder hit over .300 for the weekend. He went 4-for-9 (.444) in the three games, which included his two RBIs and his home run. However, Clemson had six extra base hits to USC’s four, including two doubles, two triples and two home runs. The Gamecocks had four doubles and only one game in which they had multiple extra base hits and that came in Game 1.
“I think this does nothing but give our team confidence, but yet again, it is still early in the season and we still have to keep playing. We have a long way to go and we still have to do some things better,” Lee said. “We are not a finished product by any means. We want to get better as the season goes on.
“We are going to enjoy this one. It is definitely a confidence builder for us, but we still have to get better in a lot of areas and I think our team understands that.”