GREENVILLE — This time, it was South Carolina dancing out of danger.
The 12th-ranked Gamecocks squared the series with rival Clemson 4-1 Saturday afternoon at Fluor Field, propping an early lead by extinguishing a couple fires against a scorching offense in the middle innings.
“I didn’t think four runs would stand, really. I didn’t feel that good,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “I don’t think we had a hit after the third inning. But it was enough.”
Ending a stretch where South Carolina starter Jack Wynkoop retired 15 of 16 Tigers, Clemson loaded the bases with one out in the sixth before Wynkoop fanned Chris Okey and Weston Wilson in the heart of the order.
In the seventh, when Clemson had ducks on the pond again with nobody out, freshman reliever Clarke Schmidt struck out Tyler Slaton and induced a Reed Rohlman double-play groundout to kill the rally.
“That’s what we’re trying to do as a staff,” Wynkoop said, “is just put it on the ground and let our defense work behind us.”
The Tigers also had their leadoff man aboard in the eighth and ninth frames, with nothing doing. After producing double-digit runs in four of its previous five games, Clemson struck out 13 times and grounded out 10 times against three flyouts.
“His curveball’s now an out pitch, whereas his first two years here it probably was just a show pitch,” Holbrook said of Wynkoop. “You got to see his good curveball today.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina (7-2) rapped out seven hits in its first 13 plate appearances, getting RBIs from Alex Destino, Jordan Gore, Elliott Caldwell and Hunter Taylor.
That was all from the Gamecocks’ lineup, but it was more than enough for Wynkoop, Schmidt and Taylor Widener, who picked up his second save. Wynkoop (2-1) struck out seven in six-plus innings of work.
“(Wynkoop) started pitching backwards after the third inning, working with his changeup and breaking ball, threw it out of the strike zone with two strikes,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “He changed his pattern totally and he pitched well.”
The rubber game will begin Sunday at noon — pending rain in the forecast — with Clemson’s Brody Koerner (1-1, 2.25 ERA) taking the ball against South Carolina’s Josh Reagan (0-0, 4.66.)
“We want to win it in the worst way, but win, lose or draw tomorrow, it’s not going to make or break our season. And I’m not going to put all this type of pressure on our players,” Holbrook said. “No, we don’t have to win tomorrow. Clemson beat us 19-6 in 2010 to win the series, and we won the national championship.
“It’s a great one-game series, and we get to play it at home and our players should be comfortable and confident. I hope we’ll play that way.”
The rout Holbrook referenced five years ago was significant two other ways: it was the last time Clemson won two of three over South Carolina in the regular season, and the last time the Tigers won in Columbia, undergoing a six-game losing streak since at Carolina Stadium.
“Absolutely, we want to win this series; we know how important it is for both sides,” Tigers designated hitter Tyler Krieger said. “Can’t wait to get there tomorrow, and I expect us to play well because we have the players to get this thing done.”
Saturday afternoon started promising enough for Clemson (6-3) when Krieger doubled in Rohlman in the top of the first, but the Tigers stranded nine runners — the same amount as the Gamecocks in Clemson’s 11-4 home victory Friday night.
“Yesterday we got the timely hits and things kind of worked our way,” Leggett said. “Today they got the timely hits and put some in the right spots.”
Tigers lefty Zack Erwin (1-1) recovered from getting roughed up in the first few innings, pitching into the seventh with five strikeouts and no walks in defeat.
The announced attendance of 7,175 fans was the fourth largest in Fluor Field history, and fell seven fans short of last year’s Clemson-South Carolina record in Greenville.