COLUMBIA -- South Carolina continued its home-field NCAA tournament dominance today with a 7-0 win over Manhattan in its tournament opener at Carolina Stadium.
The win set up a fourth game this season against rival Clemson on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU. The winner advances to Sunday’s potential Regional-clinching game, with a trip to the Super Regional on the line. The game will air on ESPNU.
USC will start its best pitcher, Michael Roth, on Saturday, as coach Ray Tanner decided to save him and throw his second-best pitcher, Colby Holmes, against Manhattan. Clemson will start Dominic Leone or Daniel Gossett.
“We’d have to pitch really well, play really good defense and get some timely hits again (as the Tigers did today),” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said of facing Roth, who is 6-1 this season with a 2.58 earned-run average.
In his only meeting with Clemson this season, Roth threw 7 1/3 innings and allowed four hits and a run while walking two and striking out seven in a 3-2, 11-inning USC victory on March 2 at Riley Park – the first game of the three-game USC-Clemson traveling series.
Roth’s career numbers in three starts against Clemson: 23 1/3 innings, 10 hits, five runs, three earned runs, six walks and 17 strikeouts.
Whichever team wins Saturday will just have to win on Sunday to make the two-team, best-of-three Super Regional against the winner of the Regional being hosted by Virginia.
The difference for USC today was the sixth inning. Until that point, the Gamecocks had no hits against Manhattan’s submarine-delivery starter Taylor Sewitt. Joey Pankake doubled to lead off the inning, which USC ended with four hits and four runs.
Pankake was USC’s lead-off hitter today, and his at-bat in the sixth marked the start of USC’s third time through the batting order. The familiarity with Sewitt’s unorthodox delivery seemed to pay off.
The Gamecocks loaded the bases with nobody out, then Adam Matthews came up with two outs and the bases still loaded. Matthews, who was batting .228 at that point, ripped a single between third base and shortstop, scoring two runs. That ended Sewitt’s scoreless innings streak at 39 1/3.
It was the only support USC starter Holmes needed. Holmes, a junior, was brilliant, in the best performance of his career. He threw eight innings and allowed one hit and no runs. He walked nobody, struck out a career-best nine and threw 90 pitches.
He did not allow a hit until giving up a single with two outs in the eighth inning. After the hit, the near-capacity crowd gave him a standing ovation. He was perfect until that point with the exception of one hit batter.
USC still hasn’t had a no-hitter since 1975, when the Gamecocks had no-hitters on back-to-back days. USC has six no-hitters in its history.
Holmes might have thrown a complete game if not for a one-hour, 24-minute weather delay with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It would have been USC’s second complete game in the past two seasons and first this year.
Now comes USC-Clemson Part IV. The Tigers beat Coastal Carolina 11-3 in today’s first game. USC is 2-1 against Clemson this season. Earlier this week, USC first baseman Christian Walker was asked about the possibility of USC playing its biggest rival this weekend.
“I wouldn’t mind it,” he said. “It could turn out really suspenseful.”
USC is 25-20 against Clemson since the beginning of 2002. USC went 9-13 from 2002-06 and 16-7 from 2007 until now, including 6-2 since the start of the 2010 College World Series, in which the Gamecocks beat Clemson twice to reach the championship series, just as they did in the 2002 World Series.
USC is 4-3 against Clemson in the NCAA tournament, with its wins coming in the 2002 and 2010 College World Series. Clemson beat USC once in the 1976 Regional in Columbia and twice in the 1980 Regional in Clemson.
In all of USC’s home NCAA tournament rounds before the College World Series, the Gamecocks are 16-2, in terms of advancing or not advancing. They did not advance in the 1976 Regional, because they lost to Furman after losing to Clemson.
The Gamecocks, who won the past two national championships, are now 26-2 all-time in NCAA tournament openers, with their only losses coming in 1983 to James Madison in Chapel Hill, N.C., and in 1977 to South Alabama in Columbia.
The Gamecocks are 51-8 at home in NCAA tournament games, including 32-5 under coach Ray Tanner. They have won an NCAA-record 17 consecutive tournament games and have won 20 straight tournament home games dating to the 2002 Super Regional. Overall, USC is 22-1 in the NCAA tournament since the start of the 2010 tournament.