USC’s two most prized baseball winning streaks were extended Saturday night at Carolina Stadium in the NCAA Regional showdown with Clemson. LB Dantzler’s one out single to right over the head of a drawn in Brad Felder scored Joey Pankake from third with the winning run and the Gamecocks defeated the Tigers 5-4 to remain unbeaten in the regional.
The victory extends USC’s NCAA Tournament record winning streak to 18 games. And it is also the Gamecocks’ fifth straight win over the Tigers in NCAA Tournament play. The Tigers haven’t defeated the Gamecocks in the post-season since 1980.
This game ebbed and flowed with first USC, and then Clemson, and finally USC taking control of the game. In the bottom of the 12th, Clemson pitcher Kevin Brady faced the top of the USC lineup. Pankake led off with a single to left field. Evan Marzilli followed with a single to left with Pankake scampering to third. Christian Walker came to the plate and lofted a shallow fly ball to right, not deep enough to score Pankake.
That set the stage for Dantzler and his heroics. The Gamecocks third baseman fouled off a two-two pitch then drilled the next offering deep to right field to easily score the winning run.
AUDIO: USC press conference [25:10]
AUDIO: Clemson press conference [17:42]
Typical of a USC-Clemson encounter, the game was full of big plays and controversy. The first big moment took place in the top of the third inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with no outs against Michael Roth. Spencer Kieboom then hit into a 6-4-3 double play which apparently scored Phil Pohl from second.
But in attempting to break up the double play, Jon McGibbon slid into second with his hands up and, according to crew chief and second base umpire Jim Garman, made contact with and hooked Gamecock second baseman chase Vergason. Garman called interference on McGibbon and Pohl was sent back to third. The run was taken off the board. Brad Felder flied out to center to end the inning. So, a potential big inning for the Tigers yielded nothing.
The Gamecocks broke a scoreless tie in the fourth on a line drive two run homer to left by Adam Matthews, his 5th of the season. Roth kept the Tigers at bay thru six innings. But he was chased in the seventh after Steve Wilkerson’s RBI double, a RBI single by Thomas Brittle and a fielder’s choice ground ball to second by Phil Pohl.
Matt Price came in and walked pinch hitter Joe Costigan to load the bases, but he got out of the inning by inducing McGibbon to fly out to second.
The Tigers made it 4-2 in the 8th on Felder’s solo home run to right field, a shot that cleared the stadium and landed out on Williams Street.
While the Tigers were building their lead, Clemson starter Daniel Gossett, except for the two run blast by Walker, kept the Gamecocks off the scoreboard. He did not allow a runner into scoring position until the seventh. With two outs, a walk and a single put runners on the corners, but Pankake flied out to right to end the threat.
Gossett was lifted after seven innings and 103 pitches for Scott Firth who immediately got into trouble in the eighth. Evan Marzilli led off with a single and scored all the way from first on a double down the left field line by Walker that eluded Tyler Slaton in the corner. Joseph Moorefield and Jonathan Meyer combined to get the Tigers out of the inning without any more damage and with a 4-3 lead.
That led to some ninth inning drama. Pinch-hitter Kyle Martin led off with a single to right. TJ Costen ran for Martin and went to second on a Vergason walk. Dante Rosenburg bunted both ahead. Kevin Brady came in to pitch for Clemson and Pankake singled to center to score Costen with the tying run. Vergason, however, was cut down at the plate by the centerfielder Brittle when he slid around Kieboom and passed the plate. He was tagged attempting to get back to the plate. Pankake took second on the play but was stranded there as Marzilli flied to centerfield.
Clemson threatened in the 10th after McGibbon doubled off the wall in left. He got to third with two outs but Price struck out Felder to end the inning.
The Gamecocks nearly won the game in their half of the 10th. With two outs, Matthews ripped a line drive that hit the top of the wall in left centerfield. The ball bounced back into play and was actually caught in the air by Dominic Attanassio. But Matthews was stranded at second when Brady struck out Sean Sullivan.
Clemson had its final threat in the 11th. Tyler Webb started the inning on the mound for USC replacing Price who threw 68 pitches. Jason Stoltz reached on an error by the third baseman Dantzler to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second. Brittle struck out and Richie Shaffer was intentionally walked. The Gamecocks then brought in Evan Beal and he got Pohl to hit a ground ball to short forcing Shaffer at second.
Brady set the Gamecocks down in order in the 11th, and Beal did likewise to the Tigers in the 12th, and that set the stage for the Gamecocks’ 12th inning heroics.
Beal (4-4) earned the victory for USC and Brady (1-3) took the loss. USC improves to 42-17 including 3-1 against Clemson this season. The Tigers fall to 34-27.
Clemson will face Coastal Carolina Sunday at noon in an elimination game. Dominic Leone will start for the Tigers. Coastal’s starter is to be announced.
USC plays the winner at 4:00 PM and will need just one win to advance to the Super Regional. A USC loss would necessitate a deciding game Monday night at 7:00 PM.