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February 28, 2014
Series preview: Clemson
NO. 11 CLEMSON (6-1) at NO. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA (7-0)
When: 7 p.m. today, 2:05 p.m. Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville, 4 p.m. Sunday at Clemson
Now, the fun begins.
Arguably college baseball's premiere early season non-conference matchup every year, this weekend's version features South Carolina in elite company, ranked No. 3 in the nation, and Clemson sitting just outside the top 10 at No. 11. The only other comparable series in the country this weekend is Cal State Fullerton (No. 5) at Oregon (No. 9), so it's fair to say all eyes in the college baseball world will be on the Palmetto State this weekend.
What they'll be looking to see is whether the Gamecocks are for real or just riding high having feasted on patsies. The reason for the high ranking is not just because South Carolina is 7-0, which is still impressive because a lot of highly ranked teams (Indiana and Mississippi State, anyone?) stumbled out of the gate against teams they were supposed to crush.
No, what's caught everyone's attention are the five shutouts, the 51 scoreless innings. You don't do something that hasn't been done in 40 years of pretty standout baseball and go unnoticed.
Now, people want to see what this staff of ace Jordan Montgomery, rock-solid No. 2 Jack Wynkoop and freshman phenom Wil Crowe can do against sincere competition, not to mention a bullpen that's been superb behind them (the Gamecocks are first in the SEC in team ERA at 0.86).
Conversely, people want to see how this offense, which is hitting .319 as a team (second in the SEC) and has scored 57 runs in 56 innings can fare against elite pitching, which the Gamecocks will certainly see tonight.
As Chad Holbrook has said, pitching and defense win baseball games, and his team has pitched better than any in school history thus far and is playing defense as well as anyone in the country (.984, second in the SEC). Throw in some piping-hot bats - Kyle Martin leads the SEC with a .500 average while Connor Bright is third with a .444 average - and it's easy to see why practically no one in America is down on the Gamecocks right now.
And how could they be? In a series that, despite Clemson's lead, has flipped of late (sound familiar?), the Gamecocks have won 20 of 28 since 2007, and when those games have counted most, the Gamecocks have been at their best. Since 2002, USC is a perfect 6-0 in the postseason against the Tigers, including 4-0 in Omaha. Clemson hasn't won the season series against USC since 2006, and tonight's starter, ace Daniel Gossett, is 0-2 against South Carolina, losing his duel with Montgomery last season in Clemson.
Whatever happens, this is as good as college baseball gets. Forget Bucknell, forget Eastern Kentucky (if you haven't already). This is Clemson. This is The Rivalry, and unlike football or basketball, in this sport it takes a back seat to none other in America.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Where will you be when the fun begins?
WHAT TO WATCH: Jordan Montgomery. H's 2-0 against Clemson in his career, beginning with a win as a freshman over the Tigers in the 2012 NCAA Regional in Columbia where he allowed just two runs on five hits in 6.2 innings. Last season, Montgomery was dominating, throwing eight scoreless innings at Doug Kingsmore Stadium to help lead USC to an 8-0 win. Montgomery is 14-2 in his career at USC and has started this season right where he left off with a complete-game shutout against UNC in the Super Regionals. He's the ace of this staff, and he's a certified Clemson-killer. Watching him work is a joy to behold.
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