'Instant Classic' South Carolina-Clemson NCAA Tournament game, and prepare for more Gamecocks vs. Tigers on Sunday - and maybe Monday
COLUMBIA — After a whole bunch of clutch plays, a controversial call, chess matches, back-and-forth agony, star power and unlikely contributors — yes, after all that zaniness — South Carolina and Clemson went on with the meaningful late innings of their game Saturday.
Into a fifth hour of action at Carolina Stadium, instant classic status was assured. That was right before LB Dantzler's one-out liner to right field sent Joey Pankake home with the Gamecocks' winning run in the bottom of the 12th, a 5-4 NCAA tournament victory for the ages.
“The atmosphere was pretty incredible,” Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer said as he packed his bat bag. “Their fans came out in bunches and it was loud. Intense. The classic Clemson-South Carolina game. But we lost. It stings.”
Gamecocks fans with parched throats let out a collective sigh of relief.
Thirsty for more? Very likely.
Clemson is worn out, but so are the back-to-back College World Series champs. If the Tigers can get by Coastal Carolina today at noon, they get another shot at South Carolina and have to like their chances better if head coach Ray Tanner cannot use Michael Roth or Matt Price.
Then maybe a third shot Monday night.
“Our goal is to play Monday,” Shaffer said. “We have to play as hard as we can to get some wins here. We can't look past (Coastal Carolina) and look for revenge against South Carolina because if we don't take care of our business at noon, there won't be any revenge.”
This was the first extra- inning game in the eight NCAA tournament games that are part of the best rivalry in college baseball.
“Certainly one of the great games between us and Clemson,” Tanner said.
Better than that.
'Kind of helpless'
The second College World Series clash in 2002 and the second in 2010 meant more. But considering the close score, stakes, skill level and two-time defending champion thing, this was the best game in the history of the rivalry.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Roth, the face of South Carolina's Omaha run. “It was tense out there but tons of fun.”
Yeah, the great Michael Roth threw 111 critical pitches over 61/3 innings, but stood for a while to be the losing pitcher.
That wasn't the hard part. Standing and watching the second half of the game was truly tummy-twisting.
“For me, that's when it was tense,” Roth said. “Not so much on the mound, but when we were in the dugout and you're kind of helpless. That's when you have to try and have fun. Stay loose. Help the guys have fun.”
Never easy against Clemson, or in an NCAA tournament game that at one time or another had seven Gamecocks in the lineup with no postseason experience.
Ah, no big deal.
“It was 4-2,” Roth said. “We knew we had a chance to come back. We've come back from more this season.”
This record 18th straight NCAA tournament win for South Carolina was similar to the first rivalry clash of 2012; the Gamecocks won 3-2 in 11 innings at Riley Park in Charleston on March 2 with comic actor and Lowcountry resident Bill Murray looking on.
Saturday's game was more dramatic than funny, more “Lost in Translation” than “Meatballs.”
Translation: Prepare for more.
If there is another rematch (or two), the players on both sides will bounce back. No problem. But as Roth knows from watching, fans might have a much more difficult time.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com or on Twitter @sapakoff