baseball

Gamecocks ready for most passionate rivalry in college baseball

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Alex Destino
Chris Gillespie, Gamecock Central

WHAT: South Carolina (9-0) vs. Clemson (6-1)

WHERE: Founders Park, Columbia (Friday); Fluor Field, Greenville (Saturday), Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson (Sunday)

WHEN: Friday 7 p.m.; Saturday 2:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m.

RADIO/TV: Gamecock Radio Network on 107.5 FM in Columbia (Andy Demetra, Derek Scott and Tommy Moody); SEC Network Plus Friday; ESPN3 Saturday and Sunday.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS

Friday

USC: Clarke Schmidt (So. RHP) 2-0, 0.69 ERA, 13.0 IP, 5 BB, 14 SO

Clemson - Charlie Barnes (So. LHP) 1-0, 2.38 ERA, 11.1 IP, 4 BB, 14 SO

Saturday

USC - Braden Webb (Fr. RHP) 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 10.0 IP, 6 BB, 10 SO

Clemson - Clate Schmidt (Sr. RHP) 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 12.0 IP, 4 BB, 9 SO

Sunday

USC - Taylor Widener (Jr. RHP) 0-0, 1.86 ERA, 9.2 IP, 2 BB, 10 SO

Clemson – TBA

The Palmetto State baseball rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson, perhaps the most intense and passionate in the country, is renewed as the two schools square off in a unique three-game series involving three different ballparks in three days.

The series begins Friday at 7 p.m. at Founders Park in Columbia and continues Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Fluor Field in Greenville before wrapping up Sunday at Clemson. Capacity crowds are expected for all three games.

“We’re fortunate to be a part of this,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “In college baseball, it’s a rarity to have sold out parks and passionate fan bases and great energy in the stadiums. That’s not the norm around the country. So, for us to be a part of that is truly a blessing. A lot of our kids come to South Carolina to be involved in this rivalry. I’m sure it’s the same thing at Clemson. The players know each other very well. This rivalry get a lot of national attention.”

USC enters the Clemson rivalry series unbeaten at 9-0 after downing The Citadel, 6-3, in Charleston Tuesday night. A year ago, USC scored just eight runs in the three games against Clemson, none in a listless performance in a 7-0 loss in Sunday’s rubber game at Founders Park.

This year, the Gamecocks seem to pack a little more punch at the plate, starting with catchers/DH John Jones (.581, 3 HR, 19 RBI) and Chris Cullen (.375), the top two hitters among the regulars with more than 19 at-bats.

“I’ve liked me team since August,” Holbrook said. “Just the way they’ve come to the park every day and the way they’ve practice and gone about their business. It has certainly been great to see them start the season the way we have. They reacted to competition in the way I hoped they would react and they’ve played pretty darn well thus far.

“But it’s only nine games and we still have a long season in front of us. We’ll know a lot more about our team after this weekend. The depth of our team is one of our strengths. I want to use our depth because we can get contributions from a lot of people.”

Holbrook’s decision to promote Dom Thompson-Williams into the leadoff spot beginning with the second game of last weekend’s Penn State series has paid dividends. Thompson-Williams is hitting .385 (5-for-13, 3 runs scored, 2 BB) over the past three games, going 3-for-5 with a double and run scored in Tuesday night’s win at The Citadel.

“(Holbrook) told me not be complacent (at leadoff) and he was putting me up there so I could get more at bats and see if I could do more with the stick,” Thompson-Williams said. “Look who is behind me. I can’t complain about that. We have some good hitters in the lineup. It makes me want to get on because when I do, I’m going to score.”

Friday night’s contest at Founder’s Park features an elite pitching matchup between USC’s Clarke Schmidt (2-0, 0.69 ERA, 13,0 IP) and Clemson left-hander Charlie Barnes (1-0, 2.38 ERA, 11.1 IP).

“The key to the series is the same regardless of who you are playing – if you pitch and play defense you’re going to have a chance to win,” Holbrook said.

Schmidt is coming off one of the best outings of his career, hurling seven scoreless innings and allowed just one walk and one hit while striking out eight in last Friday’s 7-1 win over Penn State. His seven innings were the longest stint in Schmidt’s career and his eight strikeouts equaled a career-high as well.

Barnes has fanned 14 batters in 11.1 innings.

“Barnes can beat anybody,’ Holbrook said. “We’re certainly going to have our hands full with him as well as their other pitchers.”

Schmidt should be tested by a Clemson lineup batting .324 collectively with seven homers and 14 doubles in seven games. The Tigers have scored 62 runs in six games since suffering a season-opening loss to Maine. Regulars Weston Wilson (.462) and Reed Rohlman (.417) have a combined 22 hits in seven games. Freshman Seth Beer is batting .375 with two homers and nine RBI.

“They are very offensive looking at their numbers,’ Holbrook said. “They have some really good experienced hitters in the lineup and Beer might be one of the best freshmen in the country. They have great balance offensively. On paper, it looks like a very evenly matched series. They certainly have good players and we feel like we have some good players.

“It should be three competitive games.”

NOTES

-- Thompson-Williams, who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, on Clemson: “(When I was being recruited) I didn’t even know Clemson was their rival, to be honest with you. But before I even showed up to school, that’s when I found out. Even in class they talk about it. They told me right away about Clemson. Don’t even wear orange. I had a lot of orange from high school. I’m glad I’m on Carolina’s side and I’m glad I’m in garnet. I wouldn’t want to be in the orange right now.”

-- South Carolina is ranked No. 13 by D1Baseball, No. 15 by the NCBWA, No. 18 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 23 in the USA TODAY coaches poll. Clemson is not ranked heading into the series this weekend.

-- USC has won 24 of the last 34 contests between the two schools dating back to the 2007 season. Clemson won the regular season series in 2010 until the Gamecocks won two straight in Omaha to secure a spot in the national championship series. The Tigers won last year’s series, snapping USC’s four-year winning streak.

-- For the 16th consecutive year, the Tom Price Award and Bob Bradley Award will be presented to the MVP for South Carolina and Clemson, respectively. The presentation will be made at the end of Sunday’s game.

-- Clemson head coach Monte Lee was a former Gamecocks assistant under Ray Tanner until returning to his alma mater, College of Charleston, as head coach. “We think the world of Monte and what he has accomplished as a coach,” Holbrook said. “He was great for this program and for the College of Charleston. We respect him as much as we could respect another coach.”

STATS + FACTS by DOUG ADAMS

Overall Matchup

South Carolina enters the Clemson series with a 9-0 record while the Tigers are 6-1. Clemson has won six straight since losing its season opener to Maine, 4-3.

Comparison (South Carolina to Clemson)

ERA 1.67 to 1.86

Batting Average .341 to .324

Runs Scored 78 to 65

Runs Allowed 19 to 14

Home runs 7 to 7

Series Record

Clemson leads the overall series 172-135-2 but the Gamecocks hold an 80-68-1 mark in Columbia and a 12-8-1 edge in neutral site games. The Tigers are 96-43 against the Gamecocks in Clemson.

Gamecocks Dominating Since 2007

USC is 24-10 against Clemson since the beginning of the 2007 season. The Tigers won last year’s regular-season series. Clemson also won the regular-season series in 2010 but the overall season series belonged to USC as the Gamecocks won two games against the Tigers in Omaha. Prior to last season, 2006 was the last time Clemson won the overall season series.

Season Series Since 2007

2007 USC 3-1

2008 USC 4-0

2009 Tied 2-2

2010 USC 3-2

2011 USC 2-1

2012 USC 4-1

2013 USC 2-1

2014 USC 3-0

2015 Clemson 2-1

Chad Holbrook

Chad Holbrook is 128-63 as the head coach of the Gamecocks. He is 6-3 against Clemson.

Gamecock Breakdown

Clarke Schmidt

- 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings pitched.

- 14 strikeouts to five walks.

- Opponents have a batting average of .100 against him.

- Threw 18 pitches against the Tigers on Feb. 28, 2015 in Greenville. He allowed two hits and struck out one batter.

- On March 2, 2015 in Columbia against Clemson, he faced 10 batters and threw 48 pitches. He allowed three runs on five hits.

Braden Webb

- 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings pitched.

- Has 10 strikeouts to six walks.

Taylor Widener

- 0-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched.

- Has two starts on the season.

- Has 10 strikeouts to two walks.

- Recorded the save against Clemson last season in Greenville. He pitched two innings and faced seven batters. He struck out five of the seven batters.

Josh Reagan

- Tied for the team lead with four appearances.

- He has three saves on the season.

- He has nine strikeouts to no walks.

- Started the 2015 game against Clemson in Columbia. He went three innings allowing two runs, one earned on five hits. He faced 15 batters.

John Jones

- Leads the team in batting average, hits, homeruns, runs batted in, total bases and base on balls.

- One of four Gamecocks to start in all nine games this season.

- Three of his starts are behind the plate while he was the DH in the other six.

- Leads USC with six multiple hit games.

Alex Destino

- Started all nine games this season.

- Batting .268 with two homers and 12 runs batted in.

- He went 1-12 against Clemson last season.

Chris Cullen

- Second on the team with a .375 batting average.

- Currently has a six game hitting streak.

Dom Thompson-Williams

- Currently has a five-game hitting streak.

- Third on the team with a .371 batting average and is tied for the team lead with three doubles.

Scoring Runs

Carolina has scored 78 runs this season. The most runs have been scored in the third and sixth innings. USC has scored 19 runs in each of those innings. The Gamecocks have yet to plate any runs in the eighth and ninth innings this season.

Clemson Breakdown

Charlie Barnes

- 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA.

- He has struck out 14 and walked four in 11.1 innings.

- Opponents are hitting .186 against him this season.

Clate Schmidt

- 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

- Struck out nine and walked four in 12 innings of work.

Jake Higginbotham

- 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA.

- Struck out six and walked five in 8.1 innings pitched.

- Opponents are hitting .333 against him this season.

Alex Eubanks

- Has 0.96 ERA in three appearances.

- Struck out 12 and walked only one batter.

Weston Wilson

- Started all seven games this season.

- Leads the Tigers with a .462 batting average.

- He went 2-4 with four runs batted in and scored twice against the Gamecocks in the Friday night game last season but went 0-9 in the next two games of the series.

Reed Rohlman

- Second on the Tigers squad with a .417 batting average.

- He went 4-13 with one run batted in and three runs scored last season against USC.

Chase Pinder

- Hitting .346 with three homeruns and 10 runs batted in.

- He went 3-11 with two runs batted in and scored one run last season against Carolina.

Eli White

- Leads the Tigers with 11 runs scored.

- Hitting .320 with four runs batted in on the season.

- Went 3-11 with an RBI against Carolina last year.

Chris Okey

- Hitting .250 with two homeruns and 11 runs batted in.

- Went 3-12 with six runs batted in and scored two runs in the 2015 series against the Gamecocks.

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