Clark pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Tigers
South Carolina scored five runs in the top of the second inning and then held off No. 14 Clemson the rest of the night for a 5-4 victory Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
“The bottom line is big innings in baseball tend to get you beat and they had one big inning and that was the difference in the game,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “Hopefully, we can try to make some adjustments tomorrow offensively and do a little better job and find a way to score some runs.
“Give credit to South Carolina. They were the better team tonight.”
Friday’s loss marked the fourth straight year the Tigers opened the series with a loss to the Gamecocks. They came back to win the previous three series against USC.
“Tomorrow is the only game that really matters in this series for us,” Lee said. “We need to play our best baseball game tomorrow because we have to find a way to get ourselves back into it.
“We shared that with them. A lot of guys have had that experience of being down 1-0 and finding a way to win the second game and get them back in the series. That being said, we have to play a good game.”
Wesley Sweatt earned the win for the Gamecocks, pitching 1 2/3 innings in relief of starter Carmen Mlodzinski. Cam Tringali also pitched an inning and two thirds, while Brett Kerry recorded the save by pitching the final 3 1/3 innings.
Kerry struck out five of the last six batters he faced and had seven overall.
“He deserves a lot of credit as well because he was awfully good,” Lee said. “He did a good job of just shutting us down.
“I feel like we needed to be more aggressive. The fourth time through the order, that is too many strikeouts, but you have to give Brett Kerry some credit for that as well. He executed pitches and did a very good job. I just feel like we needed to be a little more aggressive and make him earn it more than we did.”
The Tigers finished the game with 10 hits. South Carolina has won eight straight games. The Gamecocks finished the game with nine hits.
“It was a very close ballgame,” Lee said. “If you look at the amount of hits and the quality of at-bats on each side, it was a very close ball game.”
Clemson (7-2) opened the scoring when Grayson Byrd hit a bomb to centerfield off Mlodzinski in the bottom of the first. The shot was a two-run blast and gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead at the time.
However, the lead did not last long. The Gamecocks put their five-spot on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning.
South Carolina (8-1) scored its five runs thanks to a two-run shot to right center by Andrew Eyster and then a three-run blast with two outs by T.J. Hopkins. That gave the Gamecocks a 5-2 lead at the time, while running off Clemson starter Brooks Crawford.
The Tigers chipped away at the three-run deficit by getting single runs in the third and fourth innings to cut the lead to 5-4.
Jordan Greene singled through the left side in the third inning to score Davis Sharpe, who led off the inning with a base hit. In the fourth inning Bryce Teodosio doubled to start things off and then scored from third when Sam Hall flied out to left field.
Clemson had an opportunity to get more runs in the second inning when it loaded the bases with one out. But Mlodzinski caught Hall looking at three straight curveballs and then Logan Davidson grounded out to short to end the threat.
“We had our opportunities in the second, that was tough,” Lee said. “We had the bases loaded with one out and we did not get anything out of that, but we found a way to get back in the game.”
After the Gamecocks scored their five runs, Mat Clark came in for Crawford and settle things down. The lefty kept the Tigers in the game by pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He gave up just two hits and struck out six batters with one walk.
Clark left the game with one out in the seventh inning. In three appearances and five innings of work against the Gamecocks, Clark has not allowed a run and has given up just two hits.
Clemson and the Gamecocks will play Game 2 of the series on Saturday at Greenville’s Fluor Field. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.