There was a time, not too long ago, the Clemson-South Carolina baseball rivalry was considered the best in college baseball. At its peak, the two played for the right to advance to the championship series of the College World Series back in 2010.
However, over the last decade, the rivalry, at least from a national perspective, has lost its luster a little bit. The Tigers have not made it past the regional round of the NCAA Tournament since its 2010 trip to Omaha, while the Gamecocks have not made it to the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons.
This year’s three-game series, which begins tonight in Columbia, marks the first-time in recent memory neither team comes into the matchup ranked. Some might say the rivalry has lost a little bit of its luster.
“Do you think the fact that both teams are un-ranked that it is going to change the way the two teams compete in the series,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee asked. “I mean, really? Do you really think that being ranked or being not ranked is going to change how both teams approach this series at all? Absolutely not.
“Both teams know what this rivalry is all about and know what this series is all about. Both teams are going to be ready to go regardless if they are ranked or not. That is irrelevant in terms of how these two teams are going to compete going into the weekend.”
Though the players and coaches are going to compete the same way, and the rivalry series is obviously important to both programs, the matchup, from a national perspective just isn’t as big. The Tigers, though 7-1, are un-ranked and are coming off a loss to East Tennessee State on Tuesday, while South Carolina is 6-2, but lost two out of three games to Northwestern at home last weekend.
“It is great to play in a series like this. There is no doubt about that,” said Lee, who is coaching in his fifth Clemson-Carolina series as a head coach. He also spent six seasons on the South Carolina staff as an assistant coach. “You know what it is going to be like on Friday night at Founders Park. It is going to be about as a competitive environment as the guys can play in.
“That’s why they chose to come to Clemson. You come to Clemson to play in the greatest rivalry in college baseball and play in a big-time series against big-time opponents. Hopefully, they will embrace it because this, to us, is what it us all about.”
The three-game series between the Tigers and Gamecocks will start tonight (7 p.m.) at Founders Park in Columbia. Game 2 will also be in Columbia at Segra Park–home of the Columbia Fireflies–on Saturday, while Game 3 will be held in Clemson at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
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