The South Carolina-Clemson baseball squabble has reached fever pitch heading into the first pitch of a three-game series Friday night. The Gamecocks' back-to-back national champion- ships, the Tigers' historical edge, a "Batgate" controversy and Omaha drama makes this rivalry a budding baseball version of Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball.
The next game in the series is at Charleston's Riley Park.
The first game was 113 seasons ago at Charleston's Hampton Park.
Started here in 1899
There was a grand parade in Charleston the week of the first-ever Clemson-South Carolina baseball game in May of 1899. Folks came from every state in the South. But the ballgame was an afterthought to the ninth National United Confederate Veterans Reunion.
The march "before thousands" included divisions of veterans from as far away as Texas "triumphant in peace," The News and Courier reported.
Mrs. Stonewall Jackson attended. The crowd at the parade "was almost exhausted from cheering."
Later in the week and before a smaller crowd in Charleston, Clemson won 21-8.
It was a "sorry exhibition" by South Carolina, The News and Courier wrote. USC committed 14 errors.
"Clemson tried to keep the score down but balls came over the plate and they just had to be knocked out," the story went on.
South Carolina stumbled to a 1-8 record in 1899.
Clemson went 4-3. Football icon John Heisman would take over the baseball program in 1901 and stay until 1904.
USC won a pair of College World Series elimination games against Clemson on the way to the 2010 national title. A Gamecocks team led by Drew Meyer, the former Bishop England High School shortstop and current South Carolina student assistant coach, upset the higher-seeded Tigers twice in Omaha elimination games to reach the 2002 national championship game (lost to Texas).
Michael Roth: He had four brief, unremarkable appearances against Clemson before his out-of-nowhere, complete-game gem against the Tigers at the College World Series in 2010. Then another victory in Game 1 of the rivalry series last March before a one-batter appearance (RBI single by John Hinson) in Game 3.
Michael Johson: The Georgetown native played for Clemson from 2000-2003 and hit 10 home runs in 16 games against South Carolina.
Johnson still wears No. 31, as a Clemson volunteer assistant coach.
USC 38, Clemson 16
Jack Leggett nailed it after Clemson took a 5-0 lead and enjoyed a productive night offensively only to lose by 22 runs on April 23, 1997, at Sarge Frye Field.
"Anytime you give up 30 hits and walk 14, it's going to be ugly," Leggett said.
Two years later, the NCAA banned "Gorilla Bats" and reduced scoring with mandated BESR bats. In 2011, new BBCOR (Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats slashed scoring again.
"They struggled a little on the mound and we just lit 'em up," South Carolina second baseman Ryan Szwejbka said after the game. "There were some smirks and smiles in the dugout but we tried not to rub it in too much."
Bat controversy heats up
The Gamecocks won two of the three games in the 2011 series, taking Game 3 in Greenville, 5-4. "Batgate" began when Clemson head coach Jack Leggett asked umpires to check the bat South Carolina's Jackie Bradley Jr. used to hit an opposite-field home run in Game 2, implying the Gamecocks were heating bats to improve performance.
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner went off after Game 3.
"I don't cheat," he said. "I don't allow my players to cheat … End of story."
Or just another colorful chapter.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or om Twitter at @sapakoff
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