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March 1, 2013
CLEMSON (5-2) vs. NO. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1)
When: 6:30 p.m. today (at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson), 2 p.m. Saturday (at Fluor Field, Greenville), 3 p.m. Sunday (at Carolina Stadium, Columbia)
Tickets: Sold out
TV: Saturday's game will be shown on MyNet in Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville; Fox in Charleston/Myrtle Beach/Florence/Savannah and MeTV in Augusta and Columbia (channel 25.4 and Time Warner 106 in Columbia)
Probable starting pitchers: Clemson - RHP Daniel Gossett (today, 1-0, 0.77 ERA); RHP Clate Schmidt (Saturday, 1-0, 0.00); RHP Scott Firth (Sunday, 2-0, 0.60). South Carolina -- LHP Jordan Montgomery (today, 2-0, 1.64); RHP Colby Holmes (Saturday, 1-0, 1.46); LHP Nolan Belcher (Sunday, 1-1, 3.86)
Notes: The re-installment of the annual grudge match. ? The neutral-site game switches back to Greenville after being played in Charleston last year. ? The Tigers have lost to William & Mary and Winthrop while USC lost to Liberty. ? Clemson coach Jack Leggett will face his third USC coach during his tenure, as Chad Holbrook enters his first rivalry weekend as a head coach after following Ray Tanner and before him, June Raines. ? USC shortstop Joey Pankake should play after missing the Furman game due to a hip injury, but he may play at designated hitter if his lateral movement is deemed to be rusty in warm-ups. ? USC will wear special decals on their helmets to honor the infant daughter of former catcher Landon Powell, who recently died. The stickers are pink circles with the name "Izzy" in the center.
Next up: USC hosts Ball State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the first of a two-game series.
It's that time again.
The state of South Carolina will experience a near-shutdown beginning today as the state's two most powerful baseball programs meet for battles No. 301-303. A rivalry stepped in tradition and that has drawn national attention over the past decade once again resumes as three sold-out crowds, neighbors turned to warriors, get together in the spirit of bad blood and one-upmanship.
The rivalry will naturally be handled by the players, many of whom are experiencing it for the first time. They all know full well the expectations of the fans that will be around them - while a series win or loss means nothing in the grand scheme of it (it's a blip on the RPI when it comes to tournament time), don't say that to anyone who will attend the three games this weekend, and is already planning the celebration at work on Monday morning.
"It's a great time to be a college baseball coach at South Carolina or Clemson, or to be a player at South Carolina or Clemson this weekend," said USC skipper Chad Holbrook, who will experience his first rivalry game as a head coach. "It's what college baseball is all about."
And for USC, it's what has heavily factored into its recent reputation as an elite program and one of the sport's heavyweights.
It didn't always use to be this way. The Gamecocks were always strong, always a solid team, but Clemson was the consistent winner, challenging for College World Series berths every year and always factoring into the ACC race. USC was always next year's team, next era's program - the cusp was always just out of reach.
That changed in 2007, when Holbrook's predecessor, Ray Tanner, began to stockpile talent like cordwood and Clemson began to lose its grip on superiority. Tanner had already scored two of the biggest wins in program history when his Gamecocks twice beat Clemson at the 2002 College World Series, ending what some saw as the Tigers' best chance to win that elusive national championship. That was excused - somewhat - by the Clemson faithful because USC didn't win the whole shootin' match. At the end of the day, the Gamecocks may have finished higher, but neither team had the hardware.
In 2007, though, USC began to turn the tide in the series. While Clemson still leads it by a comfortable margin (169-129-2), one has to wonder what the Tigers would give to erase some of the losses they've recently had to swallow.
Tanner's troops won three of four meetings with Clemson in 2007 and followed that with six straight rivalry wins, until Clemson won the final two in 2009 to force a 2-2 split in the season series. The Tigers won two of three in 2010, but then came the College World Series, where Clemson was in the same spot as 2002, one win from playing for the national championship, and two losses from elimination. The opponent was USC, exhausted and out of pitching from its survive-or-go-home battle through the losers' bracket.
Clemson still can't believe it. Michael Roth shares a middle name with Boston Red Sox fans when talking about New York's Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone, after he came out of nowhere to twirl a three-hit complete game and force a winner-take-all second game. The Gamecocks won that as well, and went on to win their first national title; USC returned to the CWS in 2011 and swept through the field to add another bauble to the trophy case.
USC then won the season series against Clemson in 2012, and added insult to injury by beating the Tigers twice in the NCAA Regionals, on its way to another appearance in the national championship series. Since 2007, USC is a glittering 18-7 against Clemson, and 4-0 in the postseason; this is a fact that has the orange-clad nation wondering what in the hell has happened since it used to own USC in everything, not just baseball.
The success has triggered a startling amount of athletic success across the board for USC against Clemson, and turned the baseball team into the symbol of that success. The players have picked up on it, speaking of their dislike for the other team nearly as much as their respect for the rivalry.
The newbies have been given a crash course in what they're about to receive. USC left fielder Graham Saiko, an Indiana native who's bounced from Illinois to Oklahoma to Florida during his career, will taste it beginning tonight.
"I was in the Bedlam series at Oklahoma State, and that's a big deal out there," Saiko said. "Everyone there takes it seriously. They've compared it to this rivalry, but from what I've heard, this is way more intense than that one out there. If it's really everything they say it is, then it's going to be a crazy weekend."
That's the plan. Clemson is an extremely talented team, perhaps one that will struggle early as its gets its young players experience, but will be a conference heavy at the end of the year, primed for great things in the postseason. USC, with a mix of veterans who have been on at least one College World Series finalist in their careers, is seen as a staple of the game, the guys who will be there, year-in and year-out.
Holbrook and counterpart Jack Leggett are each under pressure, the latter wanting to win a series to prove that he still can and the former knowing he's going to hear about Tanner's success if he can't equal it. Holbrook is ready for it, being fully versed in the pageantry of the rivalry - had his sister Nicole not chosen North Carolina for her graduate studies after studying at Clemson, Holbrook would have played for legendary coach Bill Wilhelm as a Tiger.
"I was very close to him," said Holbrook of Wilhelm, who hand-picked Leggett as his successor and died in 2010. "He recruited me extremely hard. He stayed in touch with me all through my coaching career and playing career. He was a mentor of mine.
"I think this series showcases college baseball and is what it's all about, from emotion to how important this series is. You have two terrific baseball programs playing each other in the same state. It's a lot of fun to be a part of this rivalry. We've won a few, and I think a lot of it has been that we've very fortunate."
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