CLEMSON - Comparisons to the football side of the rivalry are appropriate. Sickening, if you're a Clemson fan.
South Carolina 5, Clemson 0 on the gridiron since 2009. It hurts. So does South Carolina 23, Clemson 8 on the diamond since 2006.
Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney, who acts a youthful 44, brushes off the significance of the rivalry's one-sided nature, arguing his team's out-of-state accomplishments (an ACC Championship, wins over three different SEC programs, and an Orange Bowl victory . all in the last 27 months, by the way) outweigh a rough patch against one particular foe, even if that particular foe strikes a personal chord with every member of Clemson's fan base.
Tigers baseball coach Jack Leggett, who turned 60 on Wednesday and has led Clemson's program since Swinney was an Alabama graduate assistant, isn't much different from Dabo in his disposition.
To him, it's about the next game, not the last one, which makes sense, because Leggett's got more control over the Ukraine crisis than fixing the past, much as he'd like to.
A couple of disgruntled comments in Greenville after the second of USC's three wins Saturday raised eyebrows. Leggett was asked about South Carolina's track record the last nine years, grumbling "You guys are the ones who get all excited about all that ... I'm proud of our program. Our fans should be proud of our program."
Then the next day, Clemson had South Carolina down to its last strike before the Gamecocks roared to rally a 5-3 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Two days after that, an 18-10 whitewashing at Western Carolina, Leggett's previous employer.
"I'm not going to let it define this team and this season right now," Leggett said. "Got a long ways to go."
Clemson fans are getting restless with the baseball program. Understandable. All Leggett and the Tigers (6-5) can manage is the next 45 scheduled games, including 30 against ACC competition.
Leggett granted The Post and Courier a few minutes to chat before Thursday's practice. He didn't want to belabor the big picture of the Gamecocks-Tigers rivalry - "I can't worry about that right now. I'm just worried about our season, about where we're going," he said - but he reiterated Clemson wasn't terribly far off from claiming the series.
"We had three good games. First game (a 9-6 USC win in Columbia, which Clemson led 6-1), had them right where we wanted to, and they did a great job of controlling the fifth inning, both on the mound and offensively. The second one (USC 10, Clemson 2) got a little away from us at the very end; we had a 5-2 ballgame going (in the eighth) with men on base. You get a big hit, it's a 5-4 game just like that. Third game comes down to one strike.
"So I don't feel like we're far behind anybody in the country if we play well. We've got some things to work on, do a little bit better, and play a full nine innings."
For the last time the rivalry was this one-sided, the series history harkens to 1995-99, when Clemson took 12 of 14 games in the series. That includes a seven-game winning streak for the Tigers in 1995 and 1996; Clemson was in Omaha both years, while South Carolina was going through the meek ending of June Raines' tenure. Raines was succeeded in 1997 by Ray Tanner.
The Gamecocks snapped out of the doldrums in 2000, promptly winning five of the six meetings in 2000-01.
So these things change quickly. Go back a little further; South Carolina won all six meetings in 1985, but Clemson won 11 of the next 14. South Carolina won five straight in 1990-91, followed by Clemson winning nine of the next 10.
The most dominant long-term stretch spanned 1958-67, when Clemson took 21 of 23 meetings. That included the longest winning streak in the series: 12 straight, from 1961-66.
South Carolina is starting to level the in-state record books. If anything, it was even more disconcerting that Clemson allowed Western Carolina to lead by 14 runs, proving a hangover lingered from the stunning USC series.
Two baseball issues bother Leggett right now: sloppy defense (13 errors during this 4-game losing streak) and lack of bullpen depth. Five guys - weekend starters Daniel Gossett, Matthew Crownover and Jake Long, and long relievers Clate Schmidt and Zack Erwin - have logged three-quarters of the Tigers' innings.
"I think we've got to find our 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th pitcher. We've got to figure out who wants to step up and help give us some relief, help in the middle of the week so we don't tax the guys on the weekend," Leggett said. "Also just shore up our defense a little bit here and there. ... If we haven't played really good defense for some reason, then we've turned that into a big inning. That's the biggest concern, is to make sure those big innings don't happen."
When does the slump end? The first chance is tonight at 6:30, with Gossett (1-0, 2.70 ERA) on the home hill for Clemson's ACC opener against Virginia Tech.
"These guys are more resilient than anybody I've (coached.) So I don't expect any problem with them," Leggett said. "It's the coaches that got to keep working on, because we've got so much invested, and they have a lot invested as well. So all of us are in a good place right now."
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