It is rare that a South Carolina versus Clemson series ends with both teams’ fan bases feeling good, but that’s exactly what happened this weekend.
Yes, the seventh-ranked Gamecocks did win two out of three against their arch-rivals the Tigers. And yes, South Carolina won both of its games in rather dominating fashion – but fans of both programs should be encouraged by what they saw over the last three days.
For South Carolina the pitching performances over the weekend – particularly from their southpaws – served notice that the Gamecocks can beat anyone when their pitchers bring their best stuff to the ballpark. Furthermore, the series-clinching win on Sunday – led by senior left-hander Nolan Belcher’s three-hit complete game gem – shows the Gamecocks are not going to be a fun group to play when their backs are against the wall.
USC was unhappy after a lackluster loss on Saturday afternoon – the first time Clemson had ever beaten them on a neutral field under Jack Leggett – and the Gamecocks rallied Sunday to pummel Clemson with the series on the line. That kind of performance bodes well for a team that may face many such rubber matches this year.
Although a win over your rival is always big, Gamecock fans should savor this one because there won’t be many eight-run victories over the Tigers in the foreseeable future.
Based on the young stars Clemson trotted out this weekend, the Tigers will be trouble for South Carolina (and anyone else they play) in the coming years. Clate Schmidt – a freshman right-hander from Acworth, Georgia – utterly dominated USC on Saturday. Meanwhile the Tigers’ weekend batting order was loaded with talented freshmen (Steve Duggar, Tyler Krieger) who showed great promise against arguably the best team they’ll play all year.
The future looks bright at Clemson – which should make this annual series wildly entertaining (and much more competitive) over the next few years.
Meanwhile South Carolina has passed its biggest test to date convincingly. Now, the focus shifts to the SEC slate, where the Gamecocks will face far stiffer challenges than what they saw in February. USC should feel confident about its weekend rotation, though, and it seems that Coach Chad Holbrook is discovering which players fit where in the Gamecocks’ batting order.
For Clemson, the season can be redeemed by a deep run into the postseason. Looking down the road, though, Jack Leggett has to start turning the tide in this rivalry – which has become incredibly one-sided in recent years. Clemson has lost twenty of their last 28 games against South Carolina and the Gamecocks have played for three national titles, while the Tigers have yet to make it to the championship series. Leggett has done great things for Clemson baseball – but the bar being set in Columbia, S.C. is incredibly high, and he can’t keep losing to USC year after year.
Everyone in the state has now seen the talent Clemson has in its freshman class and Tiger fans are expecting big things from them in the future – including wins over USC and runs at national titles.
For the sake of their coach, they better deliver …
Rixon Lane is a junior broadcast journalism major at the University of South Carolina. He hosts a sports talk show on WUSC (90.5 FM) from 8:00-10:00 p.m. on Mondays.
Pics: Laurie Giarratano