After the first four innings provided very little action in Clemson’s 7-2 victory over No. 14 South Carolina Tuesday, the fifth inning provide a lot of drama.
First Wes Clarke hit a solo home run to right field in the top of the inning for the Gamecocks, but the Tigers responded with three runs on just one hit in the bottom frame. But that was not the story.
The big break for the Tigers came when USC pitcher Daniel Lloyd threw the baseball into the dirt while trying to throw out Max Wagner at third base on a Sam Hall bunt attempt with one out.
The Lloyd blunder allowed Wagner to score, as well as J.D. Brock, who came all the way from first base to score go-ahead run. The ball skipped in front of the bag at third and shot towards the USC bullpen, which easily allowed both runners to come home.
James Parker then brought Hall home with one out a few moments later with a base hit to left field, which was Clemson’s first of the game.
“This is a great win for us against a great club,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
Prior to Lloyd’s error, things got heated when he hit Clemson’s Bryce Teodosio in the face, blooding his nose. The incident forced Teodosio to leave the game for a few outings and caused a stir amongst the Clemson fans and seemed to fire up the Tigers in the dugout.
“You now how kids are. The crowd was going nuts, thinking they were trying to hit him,” Lee said. “He was just trying to throw the ball over the plate. He was not trying to hit him in a situation like that. There was no ill intent at all.
“I did not think anything of it. I was just wanting to make sure Bryce was okay and that is why I ran out there. I just want to make sure he was alright. I did not think there was anything going on there, like he was trying to hit him or anything.”
Clemson (23-21) added an insurance run in the sixth inning when Brook singled to third, allowing Bryar Hawkins to score from third. That gave the Tigers a 4-1 lead at the time.
Pitching dominated the early part of the game, though Clemson starter Carter Raffield played with fire a few times in the three innings he pitched.
In the first inning he walked Andrew Eyster and hit Colin Burgess with one out, but stuck out the side to end the inning. The Gamecocks loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the second, but Raffield got Eyster to pop up to first to end that threat.
Getting Eyster out in both situations was huge for the righty after the South Carolina right fielder beat the Tigers with walk-off hits on back-to-back nights earlier in the season.
“I will be honest with you, I had no idea he had two walk-offs going into those at-bats,” Raffield said. “So, even if I did, I would try not to think about that because having that kind of mindset will not help you on the mound, keeping something like that in the back of your mind.
“At the end of the day, I am just going to compete, throw strikes to him and get the guy out. That is my job. That is what I am supposed to do. That is what I am here to do.”
In the third inning, Clarke walked and moved to third with one out on a David Menham single, but Raffield again got out of the jam by striking out Slighter and then inducing Heinrich to ground out to short.
The Gamecocks (28-18) got another solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning from Heinrich smacked a shot to left field. But Dylan Brewer blasted a ball to right field in the bottom of the inning to extend the Clemson lead back to three runs at 5-2.
Meredith singled through the right side with two outs to score Hawkins, extending the lead to 6-2. The Tigers added another run before the inning closed.
The win was a big one of the Tigers, who now hit the road this weekend to visit No. 17 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla. The Gamecocks came into the night with a No. 12 RPI ranking, a big mark for Clemson to have on its resume as continues to try and make a push at an NCAA Tournament bid.
“This certainly helps in a lot of different ways,” Lee said. “We are fighting like crazy to get into the postseason. A win like this tonight certainly helps our case. We know we still have work to do.
“We have to go down to Tallahassee and play a really good Florida State club on the road which is always a challenge. Then we got Duke coming at home. Every game right now is, quite honestly, like a playoff game for us. We are fighting every game to put ourselves in position to get into the postseason. We certainly took a step in the right direction tonight, but we still have work to do. But it was great to get a win tonight at home against our rival school and play good baseball.”
Parker received the Bob Bradley Award as Clemson’s MVP of the three-game season series. Andrew Eyster received the Tom Price Award as South Carolina’s MVP of the three-game season series, which the Gamecocks won 2-1.
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