COLUMBIA, S.C. — It’s safe to say Clemson threw away Friday’s opening game in the South Carolina series.
Two costly errors, including an errant throw by relief pitcher Ryley Gilliam in the bottom of the ninth allowed No. 23 South Carolina to upset No. 7 Clemson, 3-2, at Founders Park in Columbia.
South Carolina handed Clemson its first loss of the season when T.J. Hopkins hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Jonah Bride from third base.
“It’s baseball. You have to understand that,” Clemson’s Seth Beer said afterward. “Things happen. Credit to them. They are a great ball club. They kept competing just like we were and at the end of the day we just ran out of outs.”
An earlier error by second baseman Grayson Byrd allowed USC to score its first run of the game. Gilliam was credited with the loss for Clemson.
After Bride led off the ninth with a walk, Gilliam allowed the Gamecocks’ third baseman to get to third base when he tried to pick him off at first base. The ball got by first baseman Chris Williams and bounced to the wall along the first base side, allowing Bride to move to third.
Leave it to Beer, though, to end a streak like the one South Carolina pitcher Adam Hill had.
The Tigers’ right fielder ended Hill’s streak of 12 hitless innings with a bomb to right field in the top of the sixth inning. The home run came with one out and Logan Davidson on first base after the sophomore drew a walk for the second time in the game.
The home run gave Clemson (8-1) a 2-1 lead at the time.
“Seth is a good hitter,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “He is one of the best hitters in the country and he got one of the few mistakes we got all night and he did what good hitters do when they get a mistake. He hit it hard.”
Up until Beer’s homer to right-center, Hill was rolling with 11 strikeouts through the first five innings. At one point he had seven straight strikeouts to tie a South Carolina record. He also tied his own Founders Park record with 14 strikeouts overall, which he set a week ago in a win over Charleston Southern.
Hill lasted seven innings and threw 110 pitches, while walking just two batters. He gave up both of his hits in the sixth. Of course the Beer home run and a single to left by Chris Williams, who was thrown out at second base while trying to stretch out a double.
Beer’s home run on the first pitch of the count was the first and only mistake Hill made all night.
“We certainly wish we could have had a few more at-bats with runners on base, but we did not. Seth was really the only threat we had tonight,” Lee said.
In all, South Carolina pitching had 16 strikeouts.
“We have to do a better job of staying in the strike zone with our swings,” Lee said. “I thought we were overly aggressive. Not very disciplined, but again, we faced a elite guy tonight so he deserves the credit.”
Clemson starter Jacob Hennessy held his own against the Gamecocks. The sophomore allowed no earned runs and gave up just three hits in five innings of work. Though he did not overpower USC like Hill did the Tigers, the lefty kept the Gamecocks grounded by inducing one groundball after another.
The Gamecocks took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning when Byrd dropped a routine pop up to second base that would have ended the inning. Instead, Bride scored from second base.
South Carolina tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning when Matt Williams pinched hit for Justin Row and hit a bomb to right field on a 1-0 count off Clemson reliever Owen Griffith.
“You have to give him credit. I think that guy had one home run in 163 at-bats last year so when he pinched hit for Row, what a great call by Coach (Mark) Kingston to bring him in and pinch hit him right there,” Lee said. “That is a tough spot to come in to. You give that veteran left-handed hitter an opportunity to step up there and man did he run into it.”
Clemson and South Carolina will continue their three-game series with Game 2 on Saturday at Greenville’s Fluor Field. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.