CLEMSON - As if determined to inspire country music lyricists in search of material about heartache and diamonds, the Clemson baseball team outdid itself Sunday.
Remember when the No. 11 Tigers had a five-run lead over No. 3 South Carolina at sold-out Carolina Stadium?
Seems like weeks ago, what with so much Clemson crumbling between Friday night in Columbia and the Gamecocks' completion of a three-game sweep with a 5-3 victory Sunday before a stunned Clemson crowd.
Clemson was one strike away Sunday, with a two-run lead in the top of the ninth in the friendly confines of Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Only to have Marcus Mooney and Tanner English, the Gamecocks' No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, deliver back-to-back two-run singles before the inning was over.
"I was smiling all the way around first base," English said of his game-winning hit.
Clemson players left the ballpark with frowns, again.
"We're obviously not happy," Clemson starting pitcher Jake Long said. "We're a good team. We just have to believe it."
How Clemson can bounce back from a rivalry sweep:
Understand that there isn't a better team on the Tigers' schedule - not Virginia or anyone else in the rugged ACC - than the one they just faced.
Play something resembling solid defense after a 10-error weekend.
Quit the fist-pumping on the mound.
The first part doesn't seem difficult; South Carolina is a leading national championship contender with a fresh triple-coat of confidence.
"You don't really come across a lot of teams that will give you its all until the very last out," English said. "It's a lot harder to do than to talk about."
Long held the Gamecocks to one run on five hits over 61/3 innings of a no-decision Sunday, but watched the whole series closely.
"You can't take it away from them," he said. "They never let up."
10 errors, 8 unearned runs
The Gamecocks seize on mistakes.
Clemson gave up two unearned runs in Friday night's 9-6 loss in Columbia, six unearned runs in Saturday's 10-2 loss in Greenville.
Four errors in Game 1.
Four in Game 2.
Two more in Game 3.
South Carolina made three errors in the series.
With slick glovework, Clemson was so much better. Clate Schmidt emerged from the bullpen Sunday to get Marcus Mooney to ground into a double play to end the South Carolina sixth inning
"It's important," Clemson left fielder Tyler Slaton said of defense, "but we'll be fine. We have some really great players and we'll be fine."
As if the Gamecocks needed an extra poke in the ribs, a pair of Clemson pitchers caught their attention.
Left-hander Matthew Crownover sailed through the first two innings Saturday, and celebrated coming off the mound after retiring the Gamecocks in the second.
Joey Pankake's single started a five-run third inning for South Carolina.
Fist-pumping and 'ifs'
On Sunday, Schmidt induced the big double-play in the seventh inning and struck out the side in the eighth. And he showed his enthusiasm on the mound.
"We notice it," Pankake said. "We notice every little thing that goes on. Not much gets by a team. I'm sure they see the same things over there (in the Clemson dugout). But, yeah, we notice it."
Better to save that fist-pumping stuff for the dugout.
Every little thing adds up in a top-shelf rivalry series more evenly matched than South Carolina's four straight regular season series wins indicate.
Ask Chad Holbrook about all the "ifs."
"If Grayson (Greiner) pops out with the bases loaded," the South Carolina head coach said of Game 1, which was turned around with Greiner's grand slam.
Clemson, down 5-1, had the bases loaded with one out in the seventh inning of Game 2. But Joel Seddon struck out Steven Duggar and Steve Wilkerson.
"If they get that big hit with the bases loaded," Holbrook said.
The Gamecocks got the big hits Sunday, again.
"I see a lot of good things ahead for us," Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said.
Very good things, probably, with a lot better defense and a little more composure against teams not as capable as South Carolina.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.