After falling 6-0 on Friday and winning 6-3 on Saturday, Clemson has a chance to make some history on Sunday afternoon at South Carolina.
The Tigers haven’t won back-to-back games against the Gamecocks since 2002. Since then, USC has accomplished the feat seven times.
Clemson last won a season series over USC in 2006, 3-1. USC won all six season series since then, except 2009, when the teams tied at two.
Clemson did win the regular season series in 2010, 2-1, but USC won two games in the College World Series to claim the overall series. So regardless of what happens Sunday, these teams could meet again in the postseason.
Other than 2006, Clemson hasn’t won the season series against USC since taking three of four games in 2003. The teams tied at two in 2004 and 2005.
This is the fourth year of the USC-Clemson three-game early season traveling series. USC won in 2011 and 2012 after Clemson won in 2010. So the Tigers could even up those matchup victories at two apiece if they win in Columbia on Sunday.
But the Tigers have lost four straight games in Columbia dating to a 19-6 victory in 2010, to capture that series. And despite Saturday’s loss, USC has still won six of the teams’ last eight meetings, dating to a 10-5 Clemson victory in 2011. Five of those eight games were decided by a run, and USC was 4-1 in those games.
It appeared for a while Saturday that Clemson might get its first shutout of USC since 2003. USC’s Friday shutout of Clemson was its first since 2008. Then it appeared USC might make it a one-run game and add some more drama to the series’ history. But neither thing happened.
USC is now 19-8 against Clemson since the start of 2007 and 7-3 since the start of 2011. Yet none of this history will mean a thing when USC left-hander Nolan Belcher opposes Clemson righty Scott Firth on Sunday.
Sophomore Daniel Gossett was solid on Friday for Clemson and freshman Clate Schmidt was even better on Saturday. He allowed five hits and two runs in seven innings, while striking out five and walking three.
Between Gossett, Schmidt and USC left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who threw a gem on Friday, both teams have some very talented young arms.
“Schmidt pitched a whale of a game for them, kept our hitters off balance pretty much all seven innings he was in there,” said USC coach Chad Holbrook. “We just really couldn’t get a good hack at him, outside of the two swings that Max (Schrock) and LB (Dantzler) put on him (for home runs). He moved the ball in and out. The sinker was going and he had a good slider. He pitched certainly beyond his years.”
Said Dantzler: “He was just locating really well. For a freshman to come in and do that, it’s impressive.”
Holbrook’s offense continues to struggle, but he knows it is early and he is still trying to figure out what lineup combinations work best.
“We’re going to continue to look at different lineups here and there,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go here. I have a feeling that the lineup you saw today is probably not going to be the lineup you see in May. We’re still trying to figure a few things out.
“I think that Clemson’s got some good young players. I don’t think they’re the team right now that they’re going to be in May or June. I don’t think we are either, because we’re still trying to find ourselves. Listen, it’s an important series. Win or lose tomorrow, it’s not going to dictate the rest of our season. It’s not going to dictate the rest of Clemson’s season. It’s just a nice series to win. It’s an important series to win. That’s the way we treat it. It’s going to be like a Super Regional feel tomorrow, and it’s a good audition for us.”
Holbrook will certainly know more about his team after Sunday’s game, though as he mentioned, it is not a season-defining game by any means.
Holbrook liked what he saw Saturday from fifth-year senior Adam Westmoreland. He threw 4 1/3 innings of relief after Colby Holmes struggled. Westmoreland allowed three hits and an unearned run while striking out seven and walking nobody. Considering the stage, it was might have been the best game of his career.
USC is still searching for answers with middle relief, so there are some opportunities for Westmoreland, who had a 4.46 career ERA entering this season, with 54 walks and 51 strikeouts. Last season, he had a 2.86 ERA but had just seven appearances (four starts) while throwing 22 innings – all career lows (including the ERA). So far this season, he hasn’t allowed an earned run and has given up just five hits in two relief appearances (6 2/3 innings).
“Very encouraging,” Holbrook said of Westmoreland’s performance Saturday. “Adam’s been throwing very well. He kept us in the game and he gave us a chance. That performance warrants more opportunities in bigger situations down the road, situations in which we’re trying to win a game instead of coming from behind. He’s a senior and he’s throwing well. I think it’s the best he’s thrown since he’s been here. That bodes well for us as we go forward in our season.”
As for what Holbrook expects out of Belcher on Sunday, he said, “Good breaking ball, good changeup. He’s been pitching very well for us. He’s going to give us a chance to win. We need to play good defense behind him and one through nine have collectively some more competitive at-bats. We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us and that’s how we’re going to treat it.”
Through two starts this season, Belcher has a 3.86 ERA, 16 strikeouts and one walk. He has allowed 12 hits in 11 2/3 innings.