Preview: Clemson rivalry renewed

The last time the Gamecocks and Tigers faced, it was with the highest stakes possible on the line: a trip to a national title game. This weekend bragging rites will be on the line again as the Gamecocks and Tigers renew their rivalry.

Clemson Tigers

Conference: ACC. Record: Home 5-1, Away 0-0, Neutral 1-0, ACC 0-0.

Series history: Clemson leads 167-123-2 (series start/last meeting: 1899/2010); Ray Tanner vs. Jack Leggett: 28 wins, 24 losses.

The difference a year makes… Since the 2010 season, the Tigers have seen some staff changes. Tom Reginos, Leggett's longtime partner (8 years) and Clemson's Associate Head Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, Reginos was in charge of hitting and fielding. Reginos left Clemson to take the Head Coaching position at Winthrop University. Reginos was replaced by former Tiger player ('97-'00)/Volunteer Asst. Coach ('03-'05), Bradley LeCroy. LeCroy returns to Clemson after working with the Western Carolina Catamounts ('06-'07) and the University of Tennessee programs (under Coach Todd Raleigh). LeCroy will undertake recruiting responsibilities and coach hitters/outfielders.

Coach Dan Pepicelli, in his second year as pitching coach, will assume duties as Associate Head Coach for Jack Leggett's team. Pepicelli lost only one weekend starter from his pitching staff from last year's team, left-hander Casey Harmon. Harmon was an integral part of the Tiger team getting to Omaha in 2010; he holds a tying school record for starts in 2010 at 19 games, finished with the highest on staff ERA at 3.79 (121.IP, 34w, 105k's, .249 oba.). Relievers like Kevin Kyle (LHP; 3.00ERA), Josh Thrailkill (RHP; 4.63ERA) and Tomas Cruz (RHP; 5.36ERA) were very important to Clemson's overall success in 2010. Admittedly, many of the relievers pitching in the 3.00-4.78 ERA range (out of the pen) return to pitch for the Tigers…Firth, Frederick, Leone and Lamb, Moorefield, Meyer and Sarratt will provide some solid innings and experience out of the pen for the Tigers.

Batter-up!... Tiger batters for 2011 will provide the consistency at home plate that they were known for in 2010. They lost the likes of Brad Miller (.357BA, 252AB, .458obp), Kyle Parker (.344BA, 247AB, .478obp), Mike Freeman (.331BA, 299AB, .397 obp) and Wilson Boyd (.301BA, 229AB, .407obp) in their regular line-up.

John Hinson, Chris Epps, Jeff Schaus return from the same 2010 batting order.

Just as was done in 2010, Tiger hitters have a good eye at the plate and have averaged 10.3 runs/game by being selective with what they chase… they have 55 walks against 28 strikeouts so far this season. They are hitting .356 with a .487 slugging percentage and .481 on-base percentage (obp). I remember watching them at the plate this time last season; they did a very good job of selecting pitches to swing at and they really, really made our pitchers work for everything they could get. By the end of the weekend, it was evident that they had mastered the art of selective hitting as they rocked Tyler Webb and sent him to the dugout in 1.1 innings with 4 earned runs off of 1 hit and four walks.

We countered with seven more of our relief pitchers that day… gave up 13 more hits, 6 walks/11K's for a total of an additional 15 runs. It was not a good day for our staff of relievers, but they would get better as the season progressed. One could attribute this particular set of statistics for the improvement, because their five inch game kicked in from there.

This year, Clemson hitters are calm and collective at the plate. Their collective batting average of .356 is better than ours for now (.335); our on-base percentage is far less than theirs (.429 obp to Clemson's .481 obp). Our walks-to-strike out ratio is not as stout as theirs, either… Clemson's 55 walks to 28 strike outs versus our 32 walks to 33 strikeouts. Our run-to-hits ratio (57 runs to 76 hits) is minimized by their ratio of 72 runs to 84 hits. What does this prove? Nothing really. Both teams have played only seven games to start this season. However, both are highly rated programs that faced off in Omaha last year. Given that it matters how you "get out of the gate" to start the season, it is always a good thing to win 2 out of 3 against your in-state rival.

Judging last year's results from the regular season match-up, things aren't always indicative of what can happen in post-season play. Both teams have a lot to play for and the Yardcocks would like to take this series. We are trying to maintain a crazy pace with the likes of two other SEC East teams who happen to be within the top 5 in the nation and (presently) ahead of us. That is why this series is important to this team this year… it will give our staff something to build off of before we hit conference play and face the likes of Florida (Gainesville, 3/25-27) and Vanderbilt (Columbia, 4/15-17). These two SECe match-ups are as key to us as this match-up will be this weekend. You gotta beat the best to be the best… as we did to Clemson in Omaha, after losing to them in the regular season series.

Here is a look at the batting order (taken from last weekend's series) and their hitting numbers. There is a lot of power on this team and they rotate hitters (pinch hitters) pretty regularly during games; especially if they establish a lead and want to initiate change for defensive purposes or when Will Lamb or Addison Johnson come in to pitch. One fact will remain true throughout the weekend and that is our pitching staff will see a lot of different looks at the plate when it comes to Tiger hitters.

26, Chris Epps, RF (L/R, Sr.); .360BA, 25AB, 11r, 9h, 2HR, 6RBI, 7w, 7k (.515 obp).

13, Brad Miller, SS (L/R, Jr.); .400BA, 20AB, 8r, 8h, 7RBI, 12w, 3k (.606 obp).

3, Jeff Schaus, LF (L/R, Sr.); .143BA, 21AB, 2r, 3h, 5RBI, 7w, 1k (.406 obp).

8, Richie Shaffer 1B/3B (R/R, So.); .190BA, 21AB, 11r, 4h, 1HR, 4RBI, 9w, 4k (.438 obp)

4, John Hinson, 3B (L/R, RS Jr.); .370BA, 27AB, 9r, 10h, 1HR, 6RBI, 4w, 2k (.438 obp).

22, Spencer Kieboom, C (R/R, So.); .550BA, 20AB, 5r, 11h, 10RBI, 5w, 1K, (.600 obp).

30 Will Lamb, CF/RF/1B/LHP (L/L, Jr.); .217BA, 23AB, 5r, 5h, 2RBI, 4w, 2k (.321 obp).

9, Phil Pohl, DH/C (R/R, Jr.); .471BA, 17AB, 5r, 8h, 1HR, 5RBI, 2k (.474 obp).

2, Jason Stolz, 2B (R/R, Jr.); .389BA, 18AB, 6r, 7h, 4RBI, 4w (.522 obp).

12, John McGibbon 1B (L/L, Fr.); .800BA, 5AB, 1r, 4h, 3RBI, 1w, (.875 obp).

1, Dominic Attanasio, LF (L/L, Fr.); .750BA, 8AB, 3r, 6h, 2RBI, (.750 obp).

25, Jon Surber, RHP/Inf (R/R, Fr.); .500BA, 2AB, 1r, 1h, (.500 obp).

5, Joe Costigan, OF (L/R, Fr.); .500BA, 2AB, 1r, 1h, 2RBI, 1w (.667 obp).

48, Jay Cox, RF/ph (R/R, RS-Sr.); .400BA, 5AB, 2h, 2RBI, 2k (.400 obp).

17, Steve Wilkerson, 2B/ph (S-R, Fr.); .400BA, 5AB, 3r, 2h, 1RBI, (.333 obp).

18 Addison Johnson, CF/LHP (L/L, R.S.-Sr.); .273BA, 11AB, 1r, 3h, 1RBI, 1w,2k (.333 obp).

37, Kevin Caughman, 2B/ph (R/R, R.S.-Fr.); .000BA, 4AB, 2k (.000 obp).

16, Jake Fletcher, C (R/R, Fr.); .000BA, 2AB (.000 obp).

.356 BA; .481 on-base %. (opponents): .203 BA; .265 on-base %.

How we will play them… We learned a very important lesson when we played Clemson in Omaha last year. That is, good pitching will trump good hitting almost every time. It was the difference from being embarrassed in March to becoming the dominant team in June 2010. Some Clemson fans are very concerned with the thought of their hitters facing three left-handed starters this weekend. To this day, many Tiger fans think that Michael Roth threw a lot of "junk" pitches (sliders, sinking pitches) against their hitters in Game 1 at Omaha; many compared his performance to what Clemson hitters struggled with against Oklahoma, but eventually overcame.

What they didn't realize was Roth's go-to cutter… the pitch that was coming in low and to the inside of Clemson right handed batters and low/outside to their left-handed batters… was an unhittable pitch that was thrown with consistency. He was hitting the zone for strikes with the cutter. If they laid off of it, it was a strike. If they made contact, the hit died a sorry death to third base, MIF or as a foul ball. You add in the slider (which is a little slower than a cutter, but looks the same coming off the pitcher's hand) and his sinking pitches were quite confusing (actually frustrating) for Clemson hitters. When they would look for it to come around, he would catch them with a mid-high 80's fastball. He could keep this style of pitching up for long periods of time, as it wasn't taxing on his arm. It was taxing on Clemson hitters.

Roth worked with speed and was getting quick outs. Clemson hitters just couldn't get comfortable with him on the mound and the longer he was there, the worse it became for Clemson. Coach Jack Leggett said of Roth's performance: "He was having success and he was throwing strikes and he was getting quick outs and his pitch count wasn't up very much. Once he got rolling there, I knew we were having a little bit of trouble". Roth threw 109 pitches, went 9 innings and got 16 groundball outs. It was no fluke; he owned them that night.

Roth (2.19ERA; 12.1IP, 8h, 4r(3e), 3w, 15k, .174oba) has been working with Coach Jerry Meyers on his breaking pitches and slider while getting his velocity up on his pitches. The increase in velocity has helped his slider and undoubtedly will help his cutter. His slider and curve ball are much improved from last year. The key to controlling what this group of hitters can do to you is to keep your pitches low and mix your pitches well to keep them guessing… Roth is the best we have at doing just that.

His match-up with Scott Weismann (RHP) on a Friday night in Columbia will be epic. Weismann comes in as a starter from last year's weekend rotation and compiled a 9-2 record with a 4.90 ERA in 97.1 innings pitched. He is the first Tiger pitcher to compile 9 wins since '06 and Clemson's record is 15-3 when Weismann starts (18 starts). He will challenge hitters with a solid fastball and he will hit the zone hard and fast. He has very good accuracy and it typically starts from the first pitch. Hitters have to be ready for what Weismann can bring. We have hit well against right handers that throw good heat.

Tyler Webb (0.00ERA; 13.1IP, 7h,1r(0e), 3w, 11k, .159oba) will probably go up against David Haseldon (RHP). Over his career, Haseldon has pitched 52.1 innings in over 29 appearances (as a starter, reliever and closer) and has allowed only 14 walks with 45 strikeouts (3.21 strike out to walk ratio). In 2010, he pitched 9 innings before giving first hit and first run of the year. Last weekend, he went 5.1 innings against Charleston Southern, giving up 4 hits with only one earned run. He will have to attempt a similar performance on a neutral field in Greenville; this pitching duel will be a good one on a neutral field.

His counterpart, Mr. Webb, is a changed man since the Tigers last saw him in a starting role. Tyler Webb learned a lot from Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson. He saw first hand what commitment could do for a pitcher's mental and physical game. For Webb, the five-inch game was the toughest. He has worked hard to get over that obstacle. Following in the lead of Cooper, Webb spent his Summer after the CWS in Columbia training hard, getting in good physical condition and working on the five inch game in the bullpen underneath the stadium. We caught a glimpse of the new and improved Webb last weekend against the Salukis.

He did a very good job of keeping his pitches down; he kept filling the strike zone with fastballs with good movement and kept his change-up/breaking pitches over the plate. Most importantly, he stayed ahead of the count. His ¾ arm slot is tough for a hitter to see because it is coming high from the mound to the plate. He has to stay ahead of the hitters with his pitch count and he will need to give us at least five good innings hitting the zone, which he should have in him. If he does that and relief can come in to finish the deal, it will be a good day in Greenville for Gamecocks.

Sunday's match-up against Adam Westmoreland (3.60ERA; 10.0IP, 7h, 4r(4e), 3w, 9k, .194oba) and Kevin Brady (RHP) should be a doozy. Kevin Brady is a very good fastball pitcher and he works fast from the bump… something he probably picked up last year as a closer. He has been lethal and merciless pounding the zone for strikes over the past two weekends against opposing batters. His performance against Michigan State (a undefeated Big 10 team coming into their match-up) revealed that once he finds his rhythm, he is virtually unstoppable. It took him a few innings to get there, but once he found the strike zone, he was unhittable.

He pitched a career high seven innings against the Spartans, giving up only 4 hits and striking out nine hitters, out of the 23 batters he faced… he gave up zero walks. The job for our hitters will be to not allow him to find his comfort zone on the bump. We need to be a little aggressive at the plate and on the bases to get his mind off of delivering the perfect fastball strike, possibly to give up that one mistake which will take him off his game.

Westy will need to give us some solid innings to keep us within striking distance on Sunday. Westy looks great on the bump with the new and improved svelt look he is showing off this year. His pitching has been short of miraculous considering the post-surgery regimen he has been under the past few years. Strength and conditioning coach Billy Anderson has done an incredible job in getting Westy prepared for the '11 season. As long as Westy remains healthy and improves, he will stay on the bump for us.

Coach Jerry Meyers has worked Westmoreland hard too, getting his velocity up on his pitches. It used to be if you thought of Westmoreland, you thought in terms of power pitching. That has changed with Coach Meyers' guidance… he is capable of offering a nice sinker with a change-up. He can deposit a breaking ball within the strike zone and the increased velocity is returning on his four-seam fastball. In a lefty's hand, this artillery of pitches is a good one to show opposing batters. It should provide success for the first portion of the ballgame. Four solid innings from Westmoreland would be outstanding.

Here is a look at Clemson's starters and their relief pitchers, many of them have seen and have had experience with our batting order, both good and bad. It will be up to our batting order to keep this group uncomfortable over the weekend.

19, Kevin Brady (RHP, L-R, R.S.-So.); 0.73ERA, 2-0, 12.1IP, 6h, 1r(1e), 1w, 19k (.140oba/43 bf).

29 David Haselden (RHP, R-R, Jr.); 0.90ERA, 1-0 (1SV), 10.0IP, 7h, 1r,(1e), 1W, 5k (.206oba/34bf).

33 Scott Weismann (RHP, R-R, Jr.); 4.50ERA, 2-0, 10.0IP, 8h, 5r(5e), 2w, 8k (.216oba/37bf).

51 Joseph Moorefield (LHP, L-L, R.S.-So.); 0.00ERA, 2.2Ip, 1h, 1r(0e), 1w, 2k (.100oba/10bf).

23 Justin Sarratt (RHP, R-R, GS); 0.00ERA, 6.0IP, 4h, 1r(0e), 1w, 2k (.182oba/8bf).

36 Matt Campbell (RHP, R-R, Fr.); 0.00ERA, 2.0IP, 1w, 2k (.000oba/8bf).

30 Will Lamb (LHP, L-L, Jr.); 0.00ERA, 1.2IP, 4k (.000oba/5bf).

28 Jonathon Meyer (RHP, R-R, So.); 0.00ERA, 3.1IP, 3h, 1w, 3k (.250oba/22bf).

39 Alex Frederick (RHP, R-R, R.S.-Sr.); 0.00ERA, 1.2IP, 1w, 4k (.000oba/5 bf).

21 Kevin Pohle (RHP, R-R, Fr.); 2.45ERA, 6.1IP, 8h, 1r(1e), 2w (.333oba/24bf).

20 Scott Firth (RHP, R-R, So.); 9.00ERA, 3.0IP, 3h, 3r(3e), 3w, 1k (.273 oba/11bf).

6 Dominic Leone (RHP, R-R, So.); 9.00ERA, 3.0IP, 3h, 3r(3e), 1w, 4k (.273 oba/11bf).

18 Addison Johnson (LHP, L-L, R.S.-Sr.); 9.00ERA, 1.0IP, 3h, 1r(1e) (.600 oba/5bf).

2.14 Team ERA; .203 oba. (opponents): 10.55 Team ERA; .356 oba.

Our hitters must make good choices at the plate and make the Clemson defense work for their outs; being a little more aggressive and challenging their pitchers is mandatory in this series. We need to challenge the middle portion of their defense, specifically John Hinson at 3rd (four errors, .750 fld %) and Brad Miller (one error, .973 fld %) at short. This is where they have committed a few fielding errors and I am wondering how they may react with active runners on base, hit and runs, stolen bases or bunts down the third base line. Staying active may present them with some problems and provide us with some opportunities, if we can create the advantage.

They have been rotating Phil Pohl and Spencer Kieboom with some regularity between the catcher position and DH, but both have strong fielding percentages of 1.000.

It is probably a situation that Coach Leggett is trying to maximize hitting opportunities by "platooning" these two players. If there is a weakness from catcher to second base, I am sure it is something we will try to take advantage of early in the game.

Trying to pick a winner in this series is a difficult task. Both teams provide the other with challenges and match up well on the field. Clemson's batting order is solid and could take advantage of mistakes a pitcher may make against them; big advantage for the Tigers. However Roth, Webb and to some extent Westmoreland could make their job of hitting a difficult one to accomplish. In this case, good pitching supersedes good hitting; I give the Gamecocks two out of three this weekend.

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