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March 2, 2013
GREENVILLE - Everything about it was cold. The weather. The life of Colby Holmes' pitches. South Carolina's batting in general, and USC's batting in clutch situations. Cold, cold, cold.
Clate Schmidt was scalding hot, but he plays for the other team.
Clemson's freshman right-hander dazzled the No. 7 Gamecocks for seven innings, then turned it over to closer Matt Campbell for the save as the Tigers evened the season series at a win apiece, 6-3, on Saturday. The Gamecocks, seemingly down and out after Clemson opened a 5-0 fifth-inning lead, clawed back against Schmidt and Campbell, but never could find the big hit that would lead to other big hits.
The Gamecocks struck out twice immediately after Max Schrock and LB Dantzler hit back-to-back home runs to break the shutout, then stranded two runners in the seventh inning. A leadoff walk and two straight doubles scored another run, before a strikeout ended the rally, and USC (7-2) barely touched the ball in the ninth.
The fizzle spoiled a fine outing for reliever Adam Westmoreland, who gave up a two-run single (scoring Holmes' runners) when he entered and another RBI single in the ninth, but was otherwise spotless with seven strikeouts. USC is trying to avoid losing its first season series to Clemson since 2006 at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Carolina Stadium, and is hoping that it finds an answer to its missing offense.
"I'd like us to be a little bit more aggressive, from one through nine," coach Chad Holbrook said. "I think a few of our guys might be feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves, (because) they've gotten off to a slow start. We're going to continue to look at different lineups here and there."
As for the series, Holbrook knows that he may be judged solely on Sunday's result. A ridiculous notion, to be sure, but some will look at what the previous guy did if the Gamecocks don't win the rubber game.
"It's an important series. It's Clemson and South Carolina," Holbrook said. "Win or lose tomorrow, it's not going to dictate the rest of our season, it's not going to dictate the rest of Clemson's season. It's just a nice series to win. It's an important series to win. That's they way we're going to treat it."
To do it, USC will have to be much more fluid offensively than it was on Saturday, and get far better pitching from the outset.
Taking the mound just after a 55-minute delay that featured a wintry mix falling from the sky, Holmes was pressing all day. Blowing on his pitching hand after nearly every throw, Holmes couldn't get movement on his fastball and only lasted 4 2-3 innings.
"I walked a couple of guys and left some balls up," Holmes said. "It was cold, but you got to cut down the walks and make pitches when you need to. I just couldn't get the ball down."
He walked one and struck out three, but Clemson (6-3) also bashed him for eight hits and five runs. The killers were the two that he left for Westmoreland in the fifth inning; Westmoreland was grand after that but his first batter, Steven Duggar, smacked a single through the box for two runs.
Holmes, who combined with two others to pitch a no-hitter last week against Albany, continued to flash hot and cold. He's been outstanding at times and Saturday at other times.
Without its Saturday guy able to put the Tigers away, USC turned to its flustered offense. Schmidt simply wouldn't let anything happen on that end, either.
The freshman ceded five hits and two runs, striking out five and walking three, with the two runs coming on the two homers in the fifth. Other than that, Schmidt worked quickly and efficiently, only throwing 21 pitches from the third through the fifth frames.
"We just really couldn't get a good hack at him," Holbrook said.
With the Tigers teeing off on Holmes, USC began to fold, until Schrock and Dantzler each crushed monstrous home runs over the right-center fence. Back in the game, the Gamecocks' rally was quickly snuffed when Joey Pankake and Grayson Greiner each struck out looking.
In the seventh, Dante Rosenberg's leadoff flare and Tanner English's one-out walk went to naught when Graham Saiko grounded out and Chase Vergason struck out. A leadoff walk in the eighth turned into a double-play grounder from Dantzler, just before Pankake and Greiner connected on back-to-back doubles.
Rosenberg swung and missed to end that inning and Campbell, given another run to work with, put the Gamecocks down in the ninth. USC sullenly packed its gear, knowing that it now carries the burden of not only trying to win a regular-season series against a great team, but that it's a rivalry series, one that the Gamecocks haven't lost since 2006.
"You can't think about that," Dantzler said. "We definitely want to win. We always say, 'Win on Sundays,' so tomorrow's a big game for us."
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