Gamecocks shift starter to bolster bullpen for Clemson series

Clemson coach Jack Leggett and USC coach Chad Holbrook face off this weekend when the Tigers and Gamecocks open a three-game set beginning Friday in Clemson. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

South Carolina may have won four straight and 13 out of the last 16 games against Clemson, but that doesn’t mean the Gamecocks aren’t gunning for more in the Palmetto State’s biggest college baseball rivalry.

The 12th-ranked Gamecocks haven’t named a starting pitcher for the finale of this weekend’s three-game series, preferring to hold usual Sunday arm Josh Reagan in reserve in case they need bullpen help in either Friday’s 6:30 p.m. opener at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson, or Saturday’s neutral-site game at Flour Field in Greenville.

“We want to have all hands on deck,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said Thursday. “We want to have everybody available. Reagan we feel like is one of our better guys, and if ... they have some left-handed hitters in their lineup (and) if we have to use him in the bullpen on Friday or Saturday to help us win a game, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll worry about Sunday when it gets here.”

Reagan, a sophomore left-hander, has no decisions and a 4.66 earned run average in two starts, both of them South Carolina victories. Using him in relief Friday or Saturday could open the door for someone like freshman right-hander Clarke Schmidt — whose brother Clate is a junior pitcher at Clemson — to start Sunday’s noon finale at Carolina Stadium.

“It’s not because we feel that Josh hasn’t performed well,” Holbrook said. “We know he can pitch better. He’s had a great bullpen session this week. We feel good about putting him in the game Friday or Saturday with the game on the line if that’s what we need to do to win.”

Clemson (5-2) has no mystery to its rotation. The Tigers will start junior lefty Matthew Crownover, who holds a 0.00 ERA in 13 innings pitched, in Friday’s opener against USC sophomore right-hander Wil Crowe. Junior lefty Zack Erwin, with a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched, will go Saturday in Greenville against USC junior lefty Jack Wynkoop. Junior right-hander Brody Korener is slated to throw Sunday in Columbia.

After dropping two of three to West Virginia to open the season, the Tigers have won four straight, most recently 11-5 over Wofford on Wednesday. “We were hitting the ball all right the first weekend, we just had nothing to show for it,” Clemson infielder Weston Wilson told reporters after the victory over the Terriers. “I think everything’s starting to click, and I think we can keep it rolling.”

South Carolina (6-1) will open the series with Crowe on the mound after using Wynkoop as its Friday starter in series against College of Charleston and Northeastern. Although Crowe is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched, Holbrook called the move more of a gut feeling, going back to former coach Ray Tanner’s belief in using higher-velocity pitchers in night games.

“Maybe that played a little part in it,” Holbrook said. “We feel great about both of them. Only one of them can throw on Friday night, and this weekend we’re going to go with Wil. That may change next weekend, and it may change like that over the course of the season. But for Friday night at Clemson, we’ll go with Wil, and we feel good about giving him the ball, as we feel good about giving Jack the ball. There’s not really any separation there in our book.”

Holbrook also doesn’t see much separation between the Clemson and USC programs, despite the Gamecocks’ recent dominance in the series.

“These players won’t be thinking about the past when we get there,” he said. One side will be trying to extend a winning streak, the other trying to start a new one.

“We’ve been pitching good, we’ve got the hits rolling now, some timely hitting,” Tigers reliever Charlie Barnes told reporters after the Wofford game. “We’ve really come along great. So we’re pretty confident heading into a big weekend.”