When you grow up in the Midlands of South Carolina area most people expect you to be a Gamecock fan.
But Clemson softball’s Ansley Gilstrap grew up pulling for the Tigers even before the school had a softball program because both of her parents, Keith and Kim Gilstrap, are Clemson graduates.
Tonight the two schools will face off for the first time in softball after last year’s contest in Clemson was cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The 16th-ranked Tigers are excited to start their rivalry in at Beckham Field in Columbia.
“I’m really excited to start off the first Clemson-Carolina game. I grew up in the Columbia area going to games so this is pretty exciting,” said Gilstrap said.
Gilstrap graduated from Blythewood High School before playing her first three years of college softball at USC-Upstate. Then she decided to transfer to Clemson in the summer of 2018 before the Tigers’ inaugural season in the spring of 2020.
“I grew up a Clemson fan and both my parents graduated from Clemson, so it was always weird being a Clemson fan in Columbia,” she said.
Clemson head coach John Rittman is looking forward to playing the Gamecocks even if the two teams are only able to meet once in Columbia this season because of the ACC’s modified conference schedule.
Rittman spent his college years playing baseball at New Mexico State University and has coached softball all across the country with stints as an assistant at Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and Kansas and as a head coach at Stanford.
But he is more than aware of the passion and importance of the Clemson-Carolina rivalry and is eager to get it started.
“I’ve heard a lot about it and been to the games in basketball, football, baseball and all the sports and have seen the rivalry games take place and it’s special,” Rittman said. “We are looking forward to it and visiting their stadium and hopefully playing really well in the first rivalry game ever.”
Clemson ace-pitcher Valerie Cagle was homeschooled in Yorktown, Va. and has never played in a rivalry game before.
Now she is eager for the opportunity to experience the start of a new rivalry between the Tigers and Gamecocks.
“I’ve never actually been a part of a rivalry before being homeschooled and playing travel ball you don’t really get to be a part of that,” she said. “So I’m definitely excited to see what the rivalry is like.”
Clemson looks to extend its 12-game winning streak against the Gamecocks (23-17) at Beckham Field in Columbia at 7 p.m., the game will be televised on the SEC Network.