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March 1, 2014

Diamond Extra: Gamecock and Tigers evenly matched?

South Carolina has held the upper hand recently against Clemson on the baseball diamond, but USC head coach Chad Holbrook contends the gap between the teams isn't as wide as the record shows.

The Gamecocks' 10-2 triumph over Clemson Saturday afternoon gives them 10 victories in their last 13 meetings with the Tigers. South Carolina has also clinched four straight series. But Holbrook says the difference in talent - if any - between the two teams doesn't explain the results on the diamond.

"We're evenly matched," Holbrook said. "We feel like we have a great tradition and we've got some really great players in our dugout. They do as well, and we've just been very fortunate. The ball's kind of bounced our way, so to speak."

Holbrook said the Gamecock have the "utmost respect" for Clemson, and that this series could have gone the complete opposite direction if not for two big moments - Joel Seddon's two strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning on Saturday and Grayson Greiner's grand slam on Friday.

"It's pitch here, pitch there, foot here, foot there every time that we play," Holbrook said. "If they get that big hit with the bases load right there, we might not be sitting here having won the game. And if Grayson pops out last night - instead he hits a grand slam - we could be sitting here 0-2. It's such a fine line."

GETTING THEM IN. While pitching played a large role in the win Saturday, South Carolina's ability to make things happen at the plate when it mattered was just as crucial. South Carolina scored 10 runs off of 10 hits, while Clemson scored just two off of nine hits. While Clemson had more errors (4) than the Gamecocks (2), the differential between hits and runs is best explained by statistics that measure how the teams performed in the batter's box when given the chance to plate runs.

Overall, South Carolina batted .286, while Clemson batted .243.

But, with runners on base, South Carolina batted .333 to Clemson's .190.

With runners in scoring position, South Carolina batted .308 to Clemson's .125.

With runners on third and less than two outs, South Carolina batted .667 to Clemson's .500.

And with the bases loaded, South Carolina batted .333 (1-3) to Clemson .000 (0-2).

The Gamecocks also had five two-out RBI, while Clemson had just one.

GETTING CHIPPY. The top of the ninth was explosive in more ways than one. The Gamecocks piled on five runs to put the game well out of reach, but what really added the exclamation point to the game was the final out of the frame. Tanner English hit a routine grounder to second baseman Steve Wilkerson with the bases loaded, but Wilkerson let it get by him, allowing Grayson Greiner and DC Arendas to score.

Marcus Mooney advanced to second on the error, but unsuccessfully tried to stretch it to third. Mooney's hard slide into the tag at third base prompted third baseman Jay Baum to stand directly over him and say something. It created a small dust-up and got fans from both sides riled up, but both teams headed back to the dugouts without incident.

Both head coaches met with the umpires before the teams returned to the diamond for the bottom half of the ninth, but Holbrook said it was just a matter of determining when time was called.

Holbrook said things like that tend to happen when emotions are high, but that both teams did well to control themselves and follow NCAA rules pertaining to on-field altercations.

PITCHING LIKE JACK. Joel Seddon has been dynamite for South Carolina in relief this season, but he's still picking up tricks from his teammates. Seddon pitched three shutout innings Saturday to slam the door on a seemingly imminent Clemson comeback, and hasn't allowed a run through 7.2 innings in six appearances this season. But he isn't above emulating Jack Wynkoop's plan of attack against Clemson batters.

Wynkoop gave up two just runs on nine hits over six innings, and worked ahead in the count against Clemson batters, a trend Seddon decided he'd try to continue when he took over in the seventh inning.

"Jack pitched well the entire game, and I just kind of went in and tried to do what he's been doing," Seddon said, mentioning how Wynkoop established his fastball and used the changeup well. "I just tried to mimic Jack."

PACKED HOUSE. The game's announced attendance of 7,182 was the largest ever at a baseball game at Fluor Field. The sides of the stadium were nearly evenly split, with the third-base fans covered in garnet and their first-base counterparts wearing orange and purple.

CONNOR BRIGHT, SILENT ASSASSIN. Junior outfielder Connor Bright continues to establish himself as one of South Carolina's best hitters. Bright, a member of the heralded recruiting class that included names like Grayson Greiner, Jordan Montgomery, Joey Pankake and Tanner English, has recorded a hit in every game this season.

Batting fifth behind Kyle Martin, he's become one of the toughest outs on the team. He ranks second on the team in batting average (.429), hits (15) and RBI (13). But you wouldn't know that if you asked him yourself.

"I try not to think about the whole hit streak thing," Bright said, adding that he just wants to do what the team needs him to do. "Just go out there and relax."

Holbrook said its that attitude that helps make Bright so successful, calling the junior from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., a "silent assassin."

"I don't think he talks to anybody, but he plays," Holbrook said. "He plays hard, and he works his rear end off. He has the utmost respect of every player in our dugout because of his work ethic and his composure, the way he competes. He's one of our best players."

UP NEXT. The Gamecock travel to Clemson Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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