For the fourth consecutive year, Clemson and South Carolina will play a three-game weekend series in what has become one of college baseball’s most anticipated early season matchups.Last season was another banner year for the series, just like 2002 and 2010, when the rivals met in the College World Series and the Gamecocks went 2-0 against the Tigers both times. In 2012, the Gamecocks hosted Clemson in the NCAA tournament regional, and again went 2-0. They were two thrilling games — 5-4 in 12 innings and 4-3 — just as the teams’ three-game regular season series glistened with a 3-2, 11-inning win for USC in Charleston and a 6-5 victory for the Tigers in Clemson. Despite the recent drama, Clemson hasn’t won a season series against USC since 2006, when the Tigers took three of four. Here’s how the teams match up this season:
THE OLD HAND
South Carolina will remember Daniel Gossett, the starting pitcher for Clemson in today’s series opener. In the Columbia NCAA regional last June, Gossett pitched seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight.
USC can expect him to be even better today. Gossett retains excellent command of an 89-92 mph fastball, but also has a wicked slider and has added a changeup. Gossett is 2-0 with a 0.77 earned run average. He has 12 strikeouts in 11 innings.
THE FRESH FACE
Clemson’s freshman class earned rave reviews during fall workouts and the group is making an impact early in the season. Tyler Krieger is entrenched at shortstop and there are a number of quality freshman arms in the class, including hard-throwing righty Clate Schmidt, who will start Saturday, and intriguing lefties in Zack Erwin and Matthew Crownover.
The most impressive freshman is Byrnes High product Steven Duggar. who has a smooth left-handed swing that produces line drives to all fields. He’s batting .320, second-best on the roster, with a team-best three doubles.
The outfielder has 6.64-second speed in the 60-yard dash and a strong throwing arm. He threw out two Wright State runners at home last Sunday.
THE FRESH FACE
USC’s No. 2 RBI man is freshman second baseman Max Schrock, who USC coach Chad Holbrook has raved about. Schrock said he battled nerves in the season opening series against Liberty (1 for 11 with three RBI in three games). In four games since, he is 6 for 17 with four RBI.
“I settled in, and I’m feeling good now,” Schrock said. “When my swing is relaxed, it feels a lot better. It’s a lot quicker. I think I might have been gripping the bat a little bit too hard earlier on.”
THE TIPPING POINT
USC’s starters — Jordan Montgomery, Colby Holmes and Nolan Belcher — have all performed well so far. They have a combined 2.31 ERA, 33 strikeouts and nine walks in two starts apiece. Closer Tyler Webb has allowed two hits and zero runs in 3 2/3 innings over four appearances. He already has three saves.
But middle relief is more uncertain for the Gamecocks. In their last game, a win Tuesday over Furman, they got solid showings from freshman lefty Jack Wynkoop and sophomore righty Evan Beal. But sophomore righty Joel Seddon allowed three hits and two runs and didn’t record an out in a middle relief appearance Tuesday.
Compiled by Travis Sawchik and Darryl Slater