COLUMBIA — There were flashes on Saturday, glimpses of what South Carolina’s hitters can offer, as the Gamecocks chase a fourth consecutive College World Series trip.
There were back-to-back one-out home runs in the sixth inning, slicing through the late afternoon chill and sailing over Fluor Field’s right field wall, off the bats of two players who must hit this season: Max Schrock and LB Dantzler. But strikeouts by Joey Pankake and Grayson Greiner immediately followed.
There were consecutive two-out doubles in the eighth by Pankake and Greiner, redemptive line drives, the latter of which cut Clemson’s lead to two runs. Then the inning deflated when Dante Rosenberg struck out.
So that’s all these swings ended up being — glimpses, too few and too late — as Clemson beat USC 6-3 after going up 5-0 in the fifth.
When the teams’ three-game traveling series concludes today at USC, Clemson can win back-to-back games over USC for the first time since 2002. The Tigers have a good chance of doing it if the Gamecocks keep struggling at the plate.
Though they won 6-0 on Friday night at Clemson, they managed just five hits, all singles. They had seven hits Saturday and are hitting .188 (12 for 64) in a series that is their biggest test so far.
USC coach Chad Holbrook understands better than anybody that “so far” in early March means little in the long run. USC has played just nine of its 56 regular season games. Still, Holbrook believes his players must address some flaws in their offensive approach.
“I’d like us to be a little bit more aggressive from one through nine (in the batting order),” he said. “I think a few of our guys might be feeling a little bit sorry for themselves, getting off to a slow start. We had some good at-bats (Friday) night. We’ve got a good offensive team. There’s no concern there.”
USC needs more from guys like Schrock, Greiner and TJ Costen, who are hitting .229, .222 and .120 for the season. Schrock’s and Costen’s on-base percentages are just .293 and .258.
Not that Saturday’s starting pitcher, Colby Holmes, did USC any favors. He allowed eight hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings. It was his third straight lackluster start in a big spot, dating to two games in last year’s College World Series. In those three games, he allowed 15 hits in 10 1/3 innings and had a 7.84 earned-run average.
“I just didn’t get the ball down,” he said of Saturday’s problems. “Fastball up, it’s easy to hit, and they hit it.”
But it’s tough to win a series against a talented opponent like Clemson — or any of the teams USC will face in the Southeastern Conference — when you hit under .200.
USC took two of three from Clemson last regular season, while hitting .255. Though history means nothing today, USC knows how to win against its rival. The Gamecocks have still taken six of the teams’ past eight meanings. Since Clemson last won back-to-back games over USC in 2002, the Gamecocks did it seven times.
“You can’t think about that,” Dantzler said. “We always say ‘win on Sundays.’ So (today) is a big game for us. We need to try to swing them a little better.”