S. Carolina nips Clemson 3-2 in 11
Sullivan, Bright RBI singles lead Gamecocks past rival
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- No warm bats or controversy in this one, just the same clutch hitting and steady defense that South Carolina’s used to the win the past two College World Series.
Newcomers Sean Sullivan and Connor Bright had RBI singles to break a 1-all tie in the 11th inning and center fielder Evan Marzilli saved the game with a lunging catch as the second-ranked Gamecocks defeated rival No. 20 Clemson 3-2 at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park on Friday night.
Last year’s series was stirred up when Clemson coach Jack Leggett had umpires check the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. and accused the Gamecocks of heating up their bats. There was also plenty of taunting between the clubs. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner was angered by Leggett’s claims as the whole state followed along. The two coaches apologized following the series and hoped this year’s set would put the focus back on baseball.
And that’s what happened in front of near capacity crowd of 5,851 in the home of the Yankees’ Class-A affiliate Charleston RiverDogs that included movie star Bill Murray, a part owner of the minor league club.
“I’m really happy about that,” Tanner said. “This atmosphere. This is a big game.”
The past couple of seasons, most big games wind up as South Carolina victories.
Christian Walker started the Gamecocks’ 11th with a walk and was sacrificed to second. Pinch-hitter Kyle Martin singled Walker to third and Sullvan, a junior transfer from Winthrop, singled through the hole at shortstop to break the tie. Bright, a freshman who entered as a defensive replacement, slapped a single to right as Patrick Harrington scored from second after colliding with catcher Spencer Kieboom for a 3-1 lead.
The Tigers weren’t done, though.
Richie Shaffer led off with a double to left and came around to score on an error by shortstop Joey Pankake. A throwing error by third baseman LB Dantzler set up Clemson with runners on the corners and two out.
Pinch-hitter Jay Baum hit a sinking shot to left center that seemed to get knocked down by the swirling winds off the Ashley River. However, the speedy Marzilli slid under the ball as the Gamecocks (8-0) began celebrating their fifth win in the last six games with Clemson (4-3).
“I wasn’t going to let any ball drop out there,” Marzilli said.
Forrest Koumas worked 2-2/3 innings in relief of ace Michael Roth to get his first victory of the season. Nolan Belcher got the final out for his first save. Freshman reliever Daniel Gossett (0-1) took the loss.
Walker singled in South Carolina’s first run in the third inning. Clemson tied it in the seventh on Jason Stolz’s single into center. Marzilli nearly cut down that run, too, but Shaffer scored when the ball bounced off the glove of catcher Grayson Greiner.
The teams play Saturday at the Gamecocks’ Carolina Stadium in Columbia before finishing the highly anticipated series Sunday at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
The Tigers, like most teams, have struggled against South Carolina the past two national championship seasons, and had hoped to answer back with a win in Charleston. Instead, Clemson was left wondering what might’ve happened if a break or two had gone their way.
Clemson had a runner cut down at the plate by Marzilli in fifth inning, then left the bases loaded in the eighth when Kieboom struck out.
Leggett was certain Baum’s ball would fall in for the tying and possible game-winning run.
“He took his chances and dove for it,” Leggett said. “If it goes beyond him, we win the ball game. But he made a really nice play.”
In all, it was just the way the rivals had hoped to kick off the series, which is the second-most anticipated meeting between the schools after football. Riley Park was jammed packed, half Gamecock garnet and half Tiger orange. Murray, the star of such popular favorites as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation, mixed with players and coaches on the field before the game.
Murray also mingled with fans in the stadium and dropped in the press box to watch the eighth-inning drama. “A bases-loaded strikeout,” he said, “The fans really got their money’s worth [Friday night].”