The game story from Friday night’s 6-0 USC win over Clemson obviously focuses on USC starter Jordan Montgomery, who was tremendous, largely because of the leg strength he added in the offseason.
Montgomery’s line is comparable with, and probably better than, his past two big starts, both last year – against Clemson in the NCAA tournament Regional and Arkansas in the College World Series. Consider how they stack up …
Clemson on Friday: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K
Arkansas in CWS: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Clemson in Regional: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Totals: 22.2 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 21 K
Yeah, that’s pretty darn good.
But one storyline that might get overlooked from Friday’s game is Shon Carson getting home in the fifth inning from third base. That put USC up 1-0, when it appeared the game was going to be a pitchers’ duel.
After back-to-back singles to lead off the inning, USC coach Chad Holbrook made the obvious move and pinch ran with Carson for Brison Celek, who was the starting designated hitter – his first start of the season, and just the second game he has played in this year. Carson moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. There was one out. Tanner English was at the plate.
“Play it safe,” third base coach Sammy Esposito told Carson, as Carson recalled later. “Don’t get ahead of yourself on a line drive back to the pitcher.”
English smacked a 2-0 pitch back up the middle. Carson thought at first that it was headed toward pitcher Daniel Gossett. Instead, it went to shortstop Tyler Krieger. Carson inched off third base, but not too far. He was about 15 feet off the bag, near where the dirt area ends.
“I was just waiting to see if he was going to throw it to first, or just put it in his back pocket (and hold onto it),” Carson said.
Krieger looked toward Carson, trying to hold him on third. Carson stared back at Krieger. Then Krieger threw the ball to first. In these moments, Carson said, Esposito did not say a word to him.
“He trusts my speed, so he wasn’t really saying nothing,” Carson said. “As soon as I saw (Krieger) take the ball from his glove, that’s when I took off. I know two throws probably wasn’t going to beat me because I was fast.”
By two throws, Carson meant the shortstop’s throw to first and first baseman Jon McGibbon’s throw home. And Carson was indeed fast enough to beat McGibbon’s throw with a head-first slide. Carson didn’t even look toward first base as he sprinted home. He just focused on the plate, never even saw the ball coming from McGibbon, and didn’t think the play was that close.
“It was a game-changing play,” Carson said. “It got everybody up in the dugout.”
Said Holbrook: “We were lucky to get that run. That kind of got us a little momentum. That was total instinct on (Carson’s) part. It wasn’t anything we did as coaches. He read the ball and took off. We’ve got to try to keep putting pressure on people with our speed and the bunt game.”
Good point, since USC isn’t a great power-hitting team. Of course, USC did add three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth, to pull away from Clemson. But Carson’s play was large for USC on Friday and important for him, in the bigger picture.
This is his second school year with the Gamecocks, and his first season with baseball. He also plays running back for the football team, and his contributions in that sport comprise two games played in 2011, when he had three carries for nine yards. He missed the rest of that season with a knee injury and all of 2012 with wrist injury.
Carson had played in three of USC’s first seven baseball games before Friday, and had one plate appearance. Even if he does nothing significant for the rest of the season, USC fans will remember him for what happened in the fifth inning on Friday night, when he showed off his speed.