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March 1, 2014

Gamecocks clinch series, pummel Clemson

GREENVILLE, S.C.: The rich just keep getting richer.

No. 3 South Carolina continued its recent dominance of archrival No. 11 Clemson in front of a record-breaking Fluor Field crowd, using solid pitching and two five-run innings to clinch the series with a 10-2 victory Saturday afternoon.

"It's obviously a big win for our team," said USC head coach Chad Holbrook, whose team improved to 9-0 on the season. "Anytime Clemson and South Carolina get together, it's two great baseball programs going at each other. We feel very, very fortunate to have won."

The win gives South Carolina four straight series victories over Clemson. The Gamecocks have also won 22 of the past 30 past head-to-head meetings. Holbrook said he has an excited locker room, but that he's more focused on what the Gamecocks are doing now than what they've done against Clemson in the past.

"This is our team in 2014," Holbrook said. "We're trying to play well this year."

Sophomore left-hander Jack Wynkoop (3-0) earned the win for South Carolina, scattering nine hits, a walk and two runs over six innings. He got plenty of run support from the offense, which tagged Clemson starting pitcher Matthew Crownover (2-1) for five runs in the third inning.

Elliott Caldwell started the third-inning rally when he reached base on an error by second baseman Steve Wilkerson. Caldwell scored after Max Schrock and Joey Pankake both roped singles into right field, and Kyle Martin bombed a sacrifice fly to deep center field to score Schrock from third.

The Gamecocks loaded the bases when Grayson Greiner walked and right fielder Steven Duggar lost Connor Bright's popped fly in the sun. Marcus Mooney's bases loaded, two-out single into right field plated the third and fourth runs of the inning. Tanner English laid down a bunt single to score Greiner from third before Clemson left-handed Zach Erwin relieved Crownover to get the final out of the inning.

But the Gamecocks struggled to get anything going from there. The Tiger plated runs off of Wynkoop in the fourth and fifth inning to shave the lead to 5-2, and Erwin held the Gamecocks scoreless through the next five innings.

When Tyler Slaton lead off the seventh inning with a single off of Wynkoop, Holbrook could feel the momentum shifting and knew it was time for a change. So he called in closer Joel Seddon an inning earlier than he'd planned.

"If you have a chance to win a series, you go try to win it," Holbrook said. "I didn't feel very good right there. I felt like Clemson was having some great at-bats. They kept pecking away and pecking away."

Clemson loaded the bases when Marcus Mooney booted a Garrett Boulware grounder and Seddon walked Chris Okey, but the junior kept his cool. Seddon struck out Duggar and Wilkerson to escape the inning, then pitched two more shutout innings to carry the Gamecocks to victory.

Holbrook called Seddon a "tough nut" after the game, and praised his composure and resilience under pressure.

"Joel's been terrific," Holbrook said. "As a coach, one of the most gratifying things for us is to see kids grow up. Joel is very, very talented, but he didn't really put it all together his freshman and sophomore year. He had a great summer, got back some confidence, and he's been dynamite for us."

South Carolina added five more runs in top of the ninth - two of them off of bases-loaded walks - to put an exclamation point on the blowout. Things got chippy between the two teams at the end of the inning when Marcus Mooney slid hard into third base and was tagged out by third baseman Jay Baum in the process, but Holbrook downplayed the incident.

"It's Clemson and South Carolina," Holbrook said. "Emotions are going to get high from time to time."

South Carolina will look to complete the series sweep tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Clemson, but Holbrook says the Gamecocks can't lose the focus that has made them so effective thus far.

"What we try to do is we talk one game at a time, and each game is its own separate entity," Holbrook said. "I'm not talking to them about a sweep. I'm talking to them about let's try to win the game tomorrow, and that's kind of what our focus is all the time.

"We're going to be on the short end of two games in a series at some point this year, and that's when the game is important. You know, we just try like crazy. It's one game. And we've been lucky the ball bounced our way on Friday and Saturday. We'll try our best to play as hard as we can tomorrow and see what happens."

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