Series to Watch: No. 10 South Carolina vs. Clemson

It could be the best rivalry in college baseball. This weekend, it will grace three stadiums in three days. It may be early in the season and still seem, weather-wise, more like football season than baseball season in many parts of the country, but fans would be hard-pressed to find a more intense atmosphere than when No. 10 South Carolina and Clemson get together this weekend in the Reedy River Rivalry

As is customary, the teams will play a neutral-site game between one at each home stadium as part of its annual non-conference series. On Friday, they will meet at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Saturday afternoon’s affair will be at Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina, then the Gamecocks will play host to the finale at Carolina Stadium.

NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA VS. CLEMSON

6-1         5-2
Friday, Feb. 27: 6:30 p.m. ET | Clemson, S.C. | ESPN3
Saturday, Feb. 28: 2:30 p.m. ET | Fluor Field
Sunday, March 1: 12 p.m. ET | Columbia, S.C. | SECN
South Carolina seems to come in with the upper hand. Despite Clemson’s 170-134-2 all-time lead in the series, the Gamecocks have won 23 of 31 between the two, including a sweep in last year’s series. Four consecutive two-out hits in a four-run ninth clinched the finale, but not before Clemson blew a six-run lead in Game 1 and tempers flared in Game 2. When these two get together, it’s must-see TV.

This year, the Gamecocks are 6-1, having lost their opener to College of Charleston before reeling off six in a row. They had mid-week game against Davidson canceled due to weather, so Friday’s game will be their first action since Sunday. Jack Wynkoop is expected to get the ball in Game 1 for 10th-ranked South Carolina. He was roughed up in his first outing (the loss to CofC) for four runs on eight hits in five innings, but responded with an eight-inning, one-run performance against Northeastern in his second start. Overall, the Gamecock staff has a 2.29 ERA and opponents are batting .255.

Clemson has won four in a row to improve to 5-2. The Tigers have reached double-digit runs in three of the past four, including a weekend sweep of Maine in Augusta, Georgia, and a Wednesday home win against Wofford. Top starter Matthew Crownover has yet to allow an earned run in two starts, though he only lasted 2.2 innings last season against South Carolina. The Tigers have combined for a 1.72 ERA and an opponent’s batting average of .202.

On the offensive end, South Carolina’s Elliott Caldwell, Alex Destino and Gene Cone have early batting averages above .400. Destino leads the team with two homers. For Clemson, Tyler Krieger and Reed Rohlman have enjoyed hot starts. The Gamecocks are hitting .306 to the Tigers’ .302.

Unless these two meet again in the postseason -- which has happened before (they met in the national semifinals in both 2002 and 2010) -- this weekend is the only chance to claim state bragging rights for the remainder of 2015.

On the Hill: Kyle Funkhouser vs. Brad Kirschner

The series opener at 3 p.m. Friday between No. 17 Louisville and Xavier will feature a little bit of new vs. old.

For the host Cardinals, Kyle Funkhouser will have the ball. Funkhouser, a junior righthander, is one of the more recognizable pitching names in the country after his stellar 2014. He earned several All-American honors as he won 13 games (a program record), had a 1.94 ERA and 122 strikeouts. In his first game this season, he struck out 12 and allowed one hit in seven shutout innings. He will be looking to get back on the winning track, though, who allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings in an 8-2 loss to Arkansas State last weekend.

His counterpart, Xavier’s Brad Kirschner, will be making his third career start. A sophomore southpaw, Kirschner was a bullpen standout for the musketeers in 2014. He earned a team-best 25 appearances and six saves. Upon moving to the starting rotation, he has started both weekend openers so far. In a total of 13 innings, he has surrendered one run on nine hits while striking out seven.

Kirschner, like Funkhouser, is also looking to get back in the win column. Despite the eight one-run innings against Furman last week, he got no run support, and Xavier lost 1-0. The one run didn’t come until there were two outs in the eighth, which ended his season-opening scoreless streak at 12.2.

Game 1 is set for 3 p.m. ET Friday.

  GS W-L ERA IP H R ER BB K B/AVG

  Brad Kirschner
2 1-1 0.69 13.0 9 1 1 5 7 .191

  Kyle Funkhouser
2 1-1 3.09 11.2 8 7 4 4 19 .182

In the Box: Dansby Swanson

Dansby Swanson and his fifth-ranked Commodores could be due for a big week. Defending national champion Vanderbilt starts a three-game series with Illinois State at 5 p.m. Friday coming off two weekday games where its offense combined for 26 runs.

Dansby Swanson
Vanderbilt | IF | Jr.
GP AVG OBP SLG
8 .333 .410 .545
Swanson is batting .333 on the young season -- the only starter in at least six for Vanderbilt above .276. His 11 hits lead the team, as do his three doubles and two triples. At 6-2, the Dores have lost Game 2 of both of their weekend series so far, to Santa Clara and Indiana State. They will be looking for a clean sweep this weekend against the Redbirds.

Illinois State is 4-2, but its pitching staff has struggled so far with a staff ERA of 5.37. Starters Jacob Hendren and Jack Landwehr have surrendered eight earned runs in 11 innings and six in eight, respectively. They have combined to give up 10 extra-base hits.  If they’re going to start to turn those numbers around, it will be a challenge against Swanson and Vanderbilt, who will be trying to keep up their run of good offense.

Around the Bases:

• Top-ranked Virginia has again been forced by weather to move games from Davenport Field to a location further south. After playing in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, it has moved its round-robin tournament with Seton Hall, Cornell and Hartford to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

• No. 15 Mississippi State is hosting Arizona and Samford at its Diamond Classic. Each of the teams will play against each other twice.

• Weekend series between ranked teams include No. 13 Oregon at No. 26 UC Santa Barbara and No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 21 UCF.