CLEMSON - It's never too early in baseball season for bragging rights of epic proportions.
Upcoming schedules for South Carolina and Clemson baseball:
No. 3 Gamecocks (10-0)
Tues.-Wed. vs. Stetson
Fri.-Sun. vs. Brown
March 11 vs. Furman
March 14-16 vs. Ole Miss (SEC openers)
No. 11 Clemson (6-4)
Tuesday at Western Carolina
Fri.-Sun. vs. Virginia Tech (ACC openers)
Backs plastered to the wall for the second time in three nights, South Carolina again dug out of a huge hole for a shocking victory. The Gamecocks proved their mettle Sunday with a 5-3 comeback victory over Clemson, at Clemson, for their first three-straight-days sweep of the Tigers since May 1985.
That's South Carolina's 23rd triumph over its in-state rival in 31 games over the past eight seasons. Including postseason results, the Gamecocks have won seven season series and tied another with the Tigers since 2006.
"It's cool. It's a good feeling," said USC center fielder Tanner English, who hit the game-deciding two-run double in the top of the ninth. "That's why you play the game; it's kind of like you're a little kid again, and it escalates in a game that everybody really looks forward to all year long."
Clemson was primed to salvage one game on the weekend on its home field at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, leading 3-1 with the third-ranked Gamecocks (10-0) down to their last strike. But former Bishop England standout Brison Celek got the rally started with a 2-2 single to load the bases with two outs.
"I put him in there hoping he would hit one in the air and hit it out, but it was one of the biggest hits of Brison's career," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "I couldn't be prouder of him; he's got a great attitude. Many places he'd start every day, but here he's part of a bigger picture and he accepts his role."
That brought up Marcus Mooney, who was the runner involved in the ninth inning of Saturday's minor scuffle with Clemson third baseman Jay Baum. On Sunday, Mooney couldn't let South Carolina down a third time in one afternoon.
"I already had two scoring opportunities to get the ball into play somewhere," Mooney said. "First time, I grounded out to the pitcher, couldn't get him in; next time, double play ball (to end the seventh).
"So honestly, I was like, all right, enough of that, I need to get a hit. I was looking for a first-pitch fastball, and he gave it to me."
Mooney shot Tigers reliever Clate Schmidt's offering to center field, where Tyler Slaton fielded cleanly and fired the ball to catcher Chris Okey, who applied the game-ending tag on Grayson Greiner. Except Okey couldn't hang on to the baseball, so Greiner was called safe, and the game was tied at 3.
"Tyler Slaton, he put a hell of a throw onto the plate. I think (Greiner) kind of knocked it out with his shoulder a little bit, I'm not sure," said USC's No. 9 hitter English, who was on deck and had the closest view of the play at the plate.
"When I saw the ball rolling on the ground, I was kind of jumping up and down. I was just ready to get in the box after that."
English promptly delivered on a 1-2 count, depositing Schmidt's sixth pitch down the left-field line to put the Gamecocks up by two. The sellout crowd clad in orange was silenced.
"(Schmidt) was kind of shutting us down the first couple innings he came in," English said. "But we're not going to give up until that last out is called, and we're never going to get down on ourselves."
South Carolina reliever Cody Mincey (2-0) set the Tigers down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
"Those losses hurt, but there's nothing you can do about it," said Slaton, who was 7 for 14 in the leadoff spot in the series but scored just twice. "You just gotta move on and go to the next day."
Easier said than done. That's two heartbreakers in 48 hours for Clemson, which led 6-1 at Carolina Stadium Friday night before Greiner's grand slam catapulted USC to a 9-6 win.
"We had them where we wanted them Friday night and let that one slip away. We had this one tonight and we let this one slip away," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "Gotta credit the fact that they took advantage of those opportunities, but I'm not going to let it define this team and this season. We've got a long way to go."
A tough call going against No. 11 Clemson (6-4) could stick in the Tigers' craw for a little while. With its two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth and men on first and second, Steve Wilkerson hit a bouncer past first base that, upon video replay, appeared to kick up chalk from the right-field line.
However, first-base umpire David Brown immediately ruled a foul ball, which caused Wilkerson to remove and thrust his helmet in disbelief. Leggett trotted over from his third-base coaching box to protest as well, but play continued and Wilkerson struck out, with both runners eventually stranded.
"Wouldn't have come over if I didn't think it was fair," Leggett said. "Certainly a big part of the ball game, a big play in a big situation with men on base in a big game. Unfortunately, it didn't go our way."
Former Wando High School standout Connor Bright went 3 for 4 for the Gamecocks, while Slaton and Steven Duggar each had three hits for Clemson.
Tigers starter Jake Long put his team in position for victory, working 61/3 innings of five-hit ball, allowing one run and one walk on five strikeouts. Schmidt (1-2) doused a seventh-inning rally and struck out the side in the eighth, but allowed five hits and four runs in the ninth.
USC starter Wil Crowe surrendered eight hits and three runs in 62/3 innings of a no-decision.
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