Will Roth tame the Tigers in 2011?

Last June, on college baseball's biggest stage, Michael Roth came through with the biggest performance of his career in a 5-1 complete game win over the Clemson Tigers. That win paved the way for another victory over the Tigers, and eventually a national championship for South Carolina. Today, Michael Roth will face Clemson in Columbia, and look to lead the Gamecocks to victory once again.

June 25th, 2010. Omaha, Nebraska. The College World Series.

On that date last summer, Michael Roth cemented himself as a legend of South Carolina baseball, as he emerged from the bullpen for his first start of the year and absolutely dominated Clemson from start to finish. The next day, South Carolina beat Clemson once again to clinch a spot in the championship series, and the rest is history.

But today is Friday, March 4, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina, a long way from that legendary field in Omaha. However, after starting the year 2-0 and showing some of that same great stuff that allowed him to beat the Tigers once, Roth is well on his way to becoming the ace that USC wants him to be.

Tonight, Clemson looks for revenge against the slow throwing lefty who helped end their championship dreams last season in Nebraska.

Whoever is on the mound, Coach Tanner assured that this will always be a hard fought rivalry due to the pride both schools take in their baseball teams.

"I think it's a sense of pride with the two programs in college baseball," said Coach Ray Tanner earlier this week. "It's an in-state rivalry, it's a big deal, but it's a national exposure game as well that I think we're very proud of. A lot of good players, a lot of history, a lot of tradition, a lot of fan interest, television a couple of days. We've embraced baseball, both institutions, and we're enjoying that, we have for many years."

Looking back to last season's success is one reason Coach Tanner feels so comfortable letting the relatively inexperienced starter handle Friday night duties so far this season.

"I still look back and think about the distance that he went that day," said Tanner. "We thought he'd give us a quality start. He's got great make up, great demeanor to compete. So we really thought that he would give us a great start. Did I think he'd throw a complete game, no I didn't think that. He did more than we could expect on that particular night. We're glad to have him out there for the first game of this series. There's a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement, and you need some guys that have been there before. They certainly have a lot of experience and we're able to counter with Michael Roth."

Clemson has lost some serious talent from last year in a couple of star players, but Tanner said that his starting pitcher will have to dig deep and come up with a lot of good stuff to contain a lineup that returns the majority of its seasoned talent.

"Tomorrow will Roth be able to make some pitches," questioned Tanner. "Will he be able to hit some corners or get them off balance a little bit. They are very, very talented, there's no doubt about that. They've got the majority of their players back, they lost Kyle Parker and Casey Harman, a couple of guys, but they've got so many guys returning with a lot of experience. Who knows how it will turn out, they're going to battle, we're going to battle."

Roth certainly has not been a disappointment in his first two starts of the season, posting two wins, and striking out a career high nine batters in his second start against Southern Illinois last weekend. The lefthander also is allowing just a .174 average against him and is currently sixth in the Southeastern Conference with fifteen strikeouts.

"I've been really impressed with him," said Tanner. "I thought he would do a good job for us. It wasn't a case where necessarily we said, ‘okay let's toss Michael out there, he's been around awhile and he'll get it started here at the beginning of the year.' We believed in the opportunity he was going to get and he'd take advantage of it. He's actually done a little better than I expected. His fastball's been better, his velocity. He's been able to get his breaking ball in there on both sides of the plate. It's only two starts, but he seems to have thrived in the situation he's in right now."

And so the stage is set for the Palmetto State rivalry that will take to the diamond for the baseball edition over the course of three games this weekend. While both teams are expected to be contenders on a national level this season, Coach Tanner said that whatever the records or expectations are, both teams and fanbases are excited to be part of the rivalry and that this meeting should be just as intense as those past battles with Coach Leggett and his team.

"I've been here for fifteen years; Coach Leggett's been up there for seventeen, it's always been a big deal," said Tanner. "Even when maybe both of our teams weren't as good as maybe right now we're both projected to be. It's always a big deal. And I know we've been on the national stage a couple of times, but it's exciting. It's great to be a part of it. I know the players are looking forward to it, our fans are. And it's great to be involved in this three game set this weekend."

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