When Jordan Montgomery encountered control issues for one of the few times in his career, South Carolina's bullpen was asked again to come up big in order for USC to rally in Friday night's opener of the heated three-game Palmetto rivalry.
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As they have often done this season, long reliever/set up man Cody Mincey and closer Joel Seddon combined to throttle the opposition, blanking Clemson on just one hit with six strikeouts over the final 3.2 innings in the thrilling come-from-behind 9-6 victory over the Tigers at Carolina Stadium.
"I have the utmost faith in those guys," USC catcher Grayson Greiner said Friday night after he played an integral role in the win. "Both Cody and Joel had their stuff today. They both looked really good. Cody threw a few more pitches than he has in any other outing since he's been here. He showed the ability to sustain his fastball and slider."
Mincey took over for Montgomery with one out in the top of the sixth and promptly retired eight of the first nine Clemson batters he faced, including four strikeouts.
Mincey, who has held opponents scoreless on just two hits with 13 strikeouts in 7.0 innings pitched over six appearances, was the pitcher of record when USC scored the eventual game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Thus, he was credited with his first career win in a Gamecock uniform.
"Cody was terrific," USC coach Chad Holbrook said after improving to 3-1 against Clemson. "He settled everything down. He mixed his pitches. He got his offspeed pitch over for strikes. He calmed the waters a little bit there and made us feel even better about our chances if we could get a couple of runs in there."
When Mincey allowed the first two Tiger batters to reach in the top of the ninth (his previous longest outing in four appearances was 1.1 innings), USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers called for Seddon, and the junior from St. Clair, MI showcased his dominant repertoire in his fifth appearance of the season.
"I've said all along that our bullpen was going to be a group effort," Holbrook said. "Together, I think they have a chance to be a really good bullpen."
Mincey's solid start to the season after transferring from Spartanburg Methodist College has caught Holbrook slightly by surprise because of a lack of consistency during preseason camp.
"He didn't throw the ball very well leading into our season and we were a little concerned, to be honest with you," Holbrook said. "There were some scrimmage days here and there we felt he was losing confidence, but once the game started, the lights went on for him like Adrian Morales. How do you get him going? You schedule the games. He wants the ball in his hands in a game. He competes awfully hard."
Seddon needed just 12 pitches - nine were strikes - to set down three straight Clemson batters to seal the win.
"We probably left Cody out there one too many hitters," Holbrook acknowledged. "Joel has some confidence going right now with the breaking balls he threw tonight and the changeups to their lefthanded hitters were impressive."
With the tying run at the plate, Seddon got Steven Duggar, perhaps Clemson's most dangerous hitter, to ground out weakly to first baseman Kyle Martin for the first out in the ninth.
"That was a little bit of a tight spot when he came in with the tying run at the plate," Seddon said. "He bowed his neck and threw the ball great.
Seddon then fired heat-seeking missiles past Steve Wilkerson and Jay Baum, striking them out for his second save of the season, wrapping up USC's eighth straight win to start the season in the process.
"Joel slammed the door in a tough situation," Greiner said. "Runners on first and second, nobody out. It was crunch time. He showed us the same thing he's showed all season. We have a lot of faith in those guys in the back (of the bullpen)."
He talked about possibly dealing with a pressure-packed ninth inning against Clemson on Thursday when he met with reporters.
"I'm just going to try to stay relaxed," Seddon said. "I can't get too amped up. I still have to focus on throwing strikes and working my pitches."
Seddon, who yet to allow a hit or run in 4.2 innings pitched this season, is quickly emerging as a quality closer.
"I've always been a starter throughout my pitching career, but I knew coming here I could go either way," Seddon said. "The coaches have always said I'm pretty versatile, so I can pitch in different situations."
-- USC has now won 11 of the past 16 games and 21 of 29 against Clemson.
-- USC is 163-32 at Carolina Stadium since the $40 million ballpark opened in 2009, the best home winning percentage among the 14 SEC schools.
-- The expected pitcher's duel between Jordan Montgomery and Daniel Gossett didn't materialize. Montgomery allowed six runs on seven hits in 5.1 innings with nine strikeouts and five walks, while Gossett lasted 4.2 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.
-- Tweet of the night belongs to Larry Williams of Tiger Illustrated: "At this point the law of Palmetto State rivalry favors South Carolina about like law of gravity favors Earth."
-- Saturday's game in Greenville will be televised by seven local affiliates around the southeast with WMYA My40 in Greenville serving as the flagship station. Stations in Columbia (WOLO), Charleston (WTAT), Myrtle Beach/Florence (WPDE), Charlotte (WCCB), Augusta (WJBF) and Savannah (WJCL) are airing the game to their respective markets.
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