CLEMSON – Not that either side in what is arguably college baseball’s fiercest rivalry needs reminding, but here’s a reminder.
Four straight. Seven of eight. 10 of 12, 13 of 16 and 23 of 31.
The Reedy River Rivalry flows furiously downstream to Columbia, as South Carolina has dominated Clemson in recent years on the diamond.
Three is a cruel number, perhaps intentionally so in the game of baseball. Some team must win the series and some team must lose – there is no draw – and a three-game sweep can be devastating to the downed squad.
To that end, must-win is a foolish term in February – but it feels that way for Matthew Crownover (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and the Tigers (4-2) when they take the field at Doug Kingsmore Stadium vs. Jack Wynkoop (1-1, 3.46) and the visiting Gamecocks (6-1) Friday at 6:30 p.m., trying to regain some dignity for the orange-clad fans restless for state bragging rights.
It’s expected to be Clemson’s Zack Erwin (1-0, 0.66) vs. USC’s Wil Crowe (1-0, 0.87) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Fluor Field – the third straight year with a neutral-site meeting in Greenville – and then No. 13 South Carolina will host the finale Sunday at noon, likely Brody Koerner (1-1, 2.25) for the Tigers against Josh Reagan (0-0, 4.66) of the Gamecocks.
Remember, Clemson looked well on its way to a series-opening triumph last Feb. 28 at Carolina Stadium with a 6-1 lead in the middle of the fifth before a Grayson Greiner grand slam off Daniel Gossett spurred a 9-6 comeback win. USC went on to win 10-2 in Greenville (not without some extracurriculars) and 5-3 in Clemson (the Gamecocks were down to their last strike) over the weekend, the first sweep in the series since 2008.
For Clemson, at least some returning batters had success against the garnet and black. Center fielder Tyler Slaton (7-for-14), right fielder Steven Duggar (5-11) and shortstop Tyler Krieger (3-for-13) each had a hit in all three games last spring.
Crownover’s been untouchable through his first two starts as Clemson’s unquestioned ace – 13 IP, 8 H, 15 K, no runs or walked allowed vs. West Virginia or Maine – but he was touched up for 5 runs (one earned) in 2 2/3 innings last year vs. South Carolina at Fluor Field. Erwin was effective in his USC start last year, with 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball and seven Ks.
Meanwhile, South Carolina had success with first baseman Kyle Martin (5-for-12, 4 R), right fielder Connor Bright (6-12) and shortstop Marcus Mooney (5 RBIs, including the 2-run go-ahead hit in the top of the 9th at Clemson.)
On the mound, USC received solid efforts vs. Clemson from Wynkoop (6 IP, 2 R) and Crowe (6 2/3 IP, 3 R), each away from Columbia.
Both teams do host a non-conference opponent Tuesday with 4 p.m. first pitches; Clemson welcomes Wofford (7-0) and USC brings in Davidson (3-2).