Baseball bragging rights between USC and Clemson will remain with the Gamecocks for another season.
USC followed the strong pitching of Nolan Belcher and took advantage of a defensive blunder by the Tigers in the sixth inning to score an 8-0 victory over Clemson Sunday afternoon at Carolina Stadium in Columbia. The win earns the Gamecocks their third straight regular season series victory over the Tigers, each by a 2-1 count.
“It was a great day for our team and our players,” said Gamecock coach Chad Holbrook. “Nolan Belcher was fantastic. He had a complete game with seven punch-outs and no walks. I believe that gets him to 23 strikeouts and one walk on the year. It couldn’t happen to a better kid that has been through a lot of difficult things since he has been here from an injury standpoint. With what that kid has been through and the work he has put in, we felt he deserved the opportunity to finish the game. We got some two out hits in the sixth that gave us some breathing room. It was a great win, and it was unbelievable being able to watch Belcher perform.”
“Belcher pitched well, he did a nice job,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “He changed speeds, spotted his fastball when he had to, he battled. I thought the first inning or two we hit too many fly balls. He got us off balance a little bit. He battled and you have to give him credit for that. We opened the door for them in that fifth (sixth) inning I guess it was, we opened the door a little bit for them and they got some big hits when they had to.”
Belcher was superb going the distance for his first career shutout. He allowed only three hits and struck out seven. 79 of his 118 pitches went for strikes. He did not allow a walk as he improved to 2-1 on the season.
Belcher only allowed baserunners in the third and seventh innings. He faced a bases loaded situation in the third with two outs but got out of the jam by inducing Steve Wilkerson to fly out to left field. In the seventh, Clemson had runners on the corners with one out. Belcher struck out Jon McGibbon and got Jay Baum on a fly ball to center.
Clemson starter Scott Firth (2-1) matched Belcher in putting zeroes on the scoreboard thru the first three innings. Gamecock third baseman Chase Vergason broke the tie with a solo home run to right field, his second of the season.
It was still a 1-0 game going going to the bottom of the sixth. Graham Saiko led off with a soft liner to second that Wilkerson misplayed for an error. He was sacrificed to second. Max Schrock then struck out and it appeared the error might not bite the Tigers. But then the inning unraveled. LB Dantzler was intentionally walked and Saiko later advanced to third on a wild pitch.
With two outs and runners on the corners, the Gamecock bats came alive. Joey Pankake singled to left, Erik Payne singled to left center, and Grayson Greiner blooped a single to right. Each hit produced a run to make it a 4-0 USC lead. Connor Bright, who started in right field, capped the inning with a two run double to left. All five runs in the inning were unearned.
The Gamecocks added a run in the seventh on a balk and a run in the 8th on a bases loaded walk and Belcher closed out the Tigers for his second career complete game and the Gamecocks’ second shutout of the Tigers in the series.
Vergason, Greiner and Bright had two hits each for the Gamecocks who collected 11 hits off of five Clemson pitchers.
USC lefthander Jordan Montgomery, who was the winning pitcher Friday night, won the Tom Price Award as the Gamecocks’ series MVP. Clemson freshman righthander Clate Schmidt, the winner of Saturday’s game, won the Bob Bradley Award as Clemson’s series MVP.
The Gamecocks are now 8-2 and will play host to Ball State Tuesday night in the first of a two game series. Clemson is 6-4 and will take on Wofford at home Wednesday afternoon.