CLEMSON — Small-ball wasn’t getting Clemson very far, especially against its nemesis.
Sophomores Weston Wilson and Chris Okey sent their team’s four-game losing streak to No. 12-ranked South Carolina sailing over the fences at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, busting out the big bats in the Tigers’ 11-4 romp to open a three-game series Friday night in Clemson.
The past two years, during six games (and five South Carolina wins), five home runs were struck in this series — all by the Gamecocks.
Wilson and Okey were in high school the last time Clemson (6-2) had gone deep on its in-state rival, and they’d had quite enough of losing to South Carolina (6-2.)
Okey didn’t wait long to blow the doors open, hammering the first pitch he saw from Wil Crowe in the third inning for a three-run homer to extend a 4-0 lead to 7-0.
“His fastball has a little jump to it, and luckily enough I could make contact with it and put it over the wall,” Okey said. “Big W tonight, it felt really good.”
Immediately, Wilson gave Clemson its first back-to-back-jacks since 2010 when he went opposite field to make it 8-0.
Things got dicey for the Tigers when USC right fielder and former Wando standout Connor Bright produced four RBIs in the middle innings, including his own three-run round-tripper off starter Matthew Crownover.
“Connor’s been in big games before, and he hit the ball hard,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do enough around him. We had a couple chances with the bases loaded and some of our better guys at the plate, and we just couldn’t get that big hit.”
On a couple different occasions, South Carolina sent the tying run to the plate.
In fact, the Tigers caught a huge break in the top of the sixth. Holding an 8-4 lead, the bases were loaded with two out when cleanup hitter Kyle Martin bounced one toward the hole between first and second base. If it got through, two runs would score and it would be a two-run game.
But runner Max Schrock couldn’t get out of the way, taking the ball in the back and ending the inning via runner’s interference.
“I was just trying to get ground balls,” said reliever Alex Schnell, and luckily it hit their player and we got out of the situation.”
Later, Wilson ended any doubt of a legendary USC comeback or Clemson collapse, depending on the perspective, when he cinched his first career multi-home run game with a three-run blast in the bottom of the seventh.
“Honestly, it took a lot of pressure off us, because we’ve had tight games,” Wilson said.
Tyler Krieger and Steven Duggar each scored three runs for Clemson, which has now won nine of the past 32 meetings with the Gamecocks. The Tigers have a scorching-hot lineup, having produced 10, 10, 11 and 11 runs in four of their last five games.
“We’ve hit the ball well all season long, taking advantage of the pitches that we saw,” Wilson said. “Hopefully we can keep doing that all season.”
Crownover (1-0) picked up his first win of the year allowing four runs in five innings. Although his scoreless streak ended at 16 innings, the junior lefty danced his way out of three different jams.
“Clemson performed tonight at a high level,” Holbrook said. “We did not, and we got what we deserved.”
Crowe (1-1) drew the loss, getting touched up for a career-most eight earned runs through six innings of work. The sophomore had only allowed more than three earned runs twice in his first 17 starts.
The Tigers’ oft-used freshman Schnell earned his first save, pitching cleanly in the last four innings of relief of Crownover.
“I could tell when the kids showed up today they had a purpose in mind,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “They were well prepared, and we played really well against a good team.”
The series resumes Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Greenville’s Fluor Field. Clemson lefty Zack Erwin (1-0, 0.66) will oppose USC lefty Jack Wynkoop (1-1, 3.46.)