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March 1, 2013
CLEMSON - Jordan Montgomery was mad, or as mad as the low-key, soft-spoken sophomore gets.
"I was only 112 pitches," he huffed, before breaking into a broad grin. "I figured I could do at least 10 more."
He didn't need the extra 10, and neither did No. 7 South Carolina.
Montgomery threw the best game of his burgeoning career and the Gamecocks took advantage of several Clemson miscues to once again win a rivalry game, 6-0 over the Tigers on Friday. With the left-hander handcuffing nearly every batter he faced and the Tigers gift-wrapping two runs, USC had all the ammunition it needed.
It just took a while for the runs to come. Montgomery was ready.
"Jordan Montgomery was the story of the game," said Chad Holbrook, who earned his first rivalry win as a head coach. "Incredible performance by him. He's an unflappable kid. He doesn't mind tight moments. The bigger the situation, Jordan tends to pitch better."
Montgomery (3-0) yielded a scant three hits, walking two and striking out a career-high nine. He was in trouble only once, in the seventh inning while trying to protect a 4-0 lead. Steve Wilkerson doubled to lead off the frame and Shane Kennedy walked, which brought a visit to the mound.
With Evan Beal and Tyler Webb beginning to warm, Holbrook told Montgomery to calm down. He wasn't threatening to pull him, although his pitch count was escalating; the message was to simply relax.
Holbrook went back to the dugout knowing that he was going to have to make a move if the next guy got on. Montgomery tugged his cap over his eyebrows, cocked his left arm and made sure his coach would never have to make that decision.
Montgomery forced first-pitch pop-ups from Kevin Bradley and Jay Baum, then retired Jon McGibbon on a 2-0 fly-out to left. In the eighth, despite starting the inning with 104 pitches, he worked a foul pop to first, a pop to right and a pop to center.
He gave Holbrook the evil eye afterward, wanting to get the complete game. But Holbrook, in good conscience, couldn't let him do it.
"Being over 100 this early in the year, we talk about it," Holbrook said. "To be honest with you, Jordan fought us. He wanted to go out for the ninth. We felt like he went back in the eighth and if anyone would have reached base, we would have went with Evan Beal there. But he had a clean eighth there, so we let him finish it."
Tyler Webb struck out the side in the ninth on 16 pitches to complement his starter. But Montgomery was the guy, with 74 strikes in 112 pitches.
"I wanted to save my bullpen for the rest of the series," Montgomery said. "I threw first-pitch strikes a lot, got my cutter over, I was spotting up my fastball pretty well in and out, and mixing a changeup in there every now and then. I was just throwing my game, I guess."
But as usual in the USC-Clemson series, there was the hint of controversy, although the consensus afterward was that it was the right call.
After USC had taken a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, Clemson's Garrett Boulware launched a two-out Montgomery offering to deep left field. Looking primed to land in the grandstand, left fielder Graham Saiko backtracked, touched the wall and then leaped.
The ball hit something and came back onto the field, third-base umpire Morris Hodges immediately signaling fair ball while the Tigers' dugout hollered for the home run. As the ball bounded free and Boulware streaked around second base, Saiko knew that somehow, he had been given a second chance.
"I felt it hit my glove and I'm pretty sure my glove hit the plastic on top of the fence and that's why it made the loud sound," Saiko said. "I saw the ball and I saw the guy running to second and I threw it as hard as I could into third."
Boulware hit the dirt at the same time as the ball bounced into Chase Vergason's glove, and when Boulware over-slid the bag, Vergason pounced. Plate umpire Jack Cox, who had backed up the play when Hodges ran down the line to rule the fly ball, emphatically pointed that Vergason had made the tag, Boulware was out and the inning was over. Clemson coach Jack Leggett argued to no avail, the Gamecocks dodged a bullet and continued what they started.
The Tigers meekly went down in the late innings, starter Daniel Gossett tiring and his defense committing two more errors (part of three for the game) behind him. Five players each had an RBI and Clemson (5-3) let another run in on pitcher Clay Bates' fielding error.
Webb rang up Kennedy for the final out and USC (7-1) had beaten Clemson for the 10th time in 13 games. The Gamecocks are a sterling 19-7 against the Tigers since 2007, but are at a loss to explain the success.
It just keeps happening.
"It's always good to get a series off on a start like this," Montgomery said. "Clemson's a good team, they have a great program. We just come out and play. I don't know how to explain it, it's the game of baseball."
The teams meet at Greenville's Fluor Field at 2 p.m. on Saturday before finishing the series at Carolina Stadium at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
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