COLUMBIA — As a sullen Clemson team huddled near the third base dugout following an 8-0 loss to South Carolina on Sunday, a handful of Gamecocks fans lingered to heckle Jack Leggett.
One voice inside Carolina Stadium had grown hoarse from tossing verbal salvos at the veteran Clemson coach. A security detail was present to ensure peace. While Leggett is unlikely to find warm greetings if strolling down Gervais Street, in a small public opinion sampling Sunday some Clemson partisans wondered on Twitter whether Leggett might receive similar treatment back at his home ballpark.
There is a growing frustration stemming from the twin College World Series title notations on the Carolina Stadium scoreboard, and Clemson’s recent head-to-head play with its rival. With the defeat Sunday, Clemson has lost three straight regular season series against rival South Carolina. Clemson (6-4) has not won the overall season series against USC since 2006, and is 8-20 against the No. 7 Gamecocks (8-2) since 2007.
Leggett chose to focus on silver linings he took from the weekend when meeting with reporters after the loss.
“We have to go on to the next one,” Leggett said. “I’ve seen flashes of what we got. I feel good about our team. We have some good young players. Our starting pitching was good this weekend, and that’s how we have to be if we are going to compete in the conference. We are capable of playing really good defense.
“(The Gamecocks) are on their way to another good season, and we will be, too.”
What Clemson learned about itself during the series is it has quality starting pitching, and at times exceptional defense, but with its lack of offensive punch — South Carolina’s L.B. Dantzler has more home runs (4) than Clemson (2) — it has a thin margin of error.
Steve Wilkerson’s sixth-inning error resulted in five unearned runs in the inning. Starting pitcher Scott Firth’s first five innings were excellent, much like his first two starts of the season, his only blemish a Chase Vergason homer. But Firth couldn’t overcome the Wilkerson error in the sixth as the USC bats came alive.
Clemson’s batters once again hit too many flyballs, negating their speed, and struggled with another left-handed pitcher, South Carolina’s Nolan Belcher, who shut out Clemson, allowing just three hits.
“He kept us off-balance,” Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware said. “He threw me a lot of changeups. We couldn’t square up any balls off of him.”
Firth did not feel Clemson placed extra pressure on itself against USC.
“I felt like everybody was pretty loose,” Firth said. “It comes down to execution, and we didn’t really execute as well as we would have liked offensively, defensively and pitching-wise today. It’s tough to win when you don’t have one of those three things, much less all three.”
After the game, a fan reminded Leggett that he’s turning 60 next March. He’s four years older than Ray Tanner, who is now South Carolina’s AD, having guided USC to two national titles. But Leggett is still in the game, still coaching, still waiting, like Clemson fans, to reach the game’s summit and match Clemson’s rival.