Rivalry reaches boiling point

This year's edition of the Palmetto State rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson was anything but normal. Although the Gamecocks ended up taking two out of three in the series after a 5-4 victory on Sunday, the series was not without high drama as the USC coaching staff and players were incensed by actions by Clemson head coach Jack Leggett and comments from CU player Will Lamb.

Things began normally enough, with South Carolina centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting an opposite field home run in the first inning of game two against Clemson starter Kevin Brady.

But Jack Leggett didn't feel comfortable with what he saw, and asked umpires to look at Bradley Jr.'s bat before finally accepting the ruling and heading back into the home dugout.

Clemson went on to win the game 10-5, but the fireworks weren't done, as the Tiger's Will Lamb called South Carolina starter Tyler Webb "soft" after the ballgame, no doubt endearing himself to the Carolina locker room.

After South Carolina closed out the series with a nail-biting affair in the final game Tuesday night at Fluor Field, Ray Tanner went on the record to express his displeasure with the way Leggett and the Tigers handled themselves over the course of the series.

"We were called out, and we had to put up with some shenanigans," said Tanner. "We've had a great baseball rivalry, and it's been all about baseball, and it was taken out of context a little bit. I didn't appreciate it. Our players didn't appreciate it. It had nothing to do with us winning or losing tonight, but we responded and they were not very happy that they got called out. I don't think its part of the game. We tried to come in here and play aggressive and play emotional. And I think its okay. It's not something you want to do all the time but I'm proud of our players, we responded."

Tanner said that prior to game three he had not spoken to Jack Leggett and would not initiate any phone conversations with the Clemson head man. He focused his irritation on the fact that Leggett did not handle the matter privately between games, but rather chose to make a spectacle during the televised contest.

"Personally," added Tanner. "If I've got a problem I'll handle it personally. If it was just the bat check it would be only half as bad. I saw Henson before I came in here, what a great player what a tremendous young man. I wished him well. We battled. It's Clemson and South Carolina, that's where it needs to start and that's where it needs to stop, and some things happened that I just didn't think were called for. They were unnecessary, that's my opinion. They called the bat out. I guess when Schafer hit one 600 feet, I should have gone out there. I didn't appreciate it, I'm offended by it. I don't cheat, I don't allow my players to cheat. We haven't done anything wrong. I felt like that we were called out a little bit. I don't appreciate it, and I don't appreciate what Will Lamb said about one of my pitchers. I don't appreciate that. Now, he's entitled to say whatever he wants to. I don't like it and my players didn't like it. End of story."

Tanner and Leggett have spoken since that point, with Leggett calling Tanner Wednesday to clear the air.

The good relationship that the two have always had was thought to be souring, for good reason, but it now appears the two coaches have come to terms with each other and are simply looking for healthy and productive seasons from here on out.

"I woke up and saw the paper, and it just made me realize that this has gotten a little crazy," said Leggett. "I wanted to air it out. I'm the kind of person that doesn't want to harbor anything that's going to sit there for a long period of time, because it's going to bother me. I wanted to get on the phone. Obviously, we're not going to agree on everything. That's just the nature of the game and the rivalry. I've got a great deal of respect for Coach Tanner and what he's done with the program and the success of the program at South Carolina. I think it's mutual."

Many have speculated that Leggett's actions Sunday were those of a coach desperately trying to save face for his team that has now lost 4 out of 5 and 14 out of the last 20 to the Gamecocks, including losing two straight games in Omaha last year with a championship series berth on the line.

But after finishing off yet another series victory against the Tigers, Ray Tanner was nothing but complimentary of the team he had just faced and wished them well over the course of the upcoming season.

"I really think Clemson is very, very good," said Tanner. "I think they have tremendous speed, they've got some power, they're very good from the left side. We trailed on Friday, we trailed tonight. We were able to battle. This is what it's like in our league and that's what it's like in their league. And I think both of us probably said, ‘we're going to be in some tough ones, maybe we'll get our share but we're going to be involved in a lot of these.' There's still a long way to go, I guess it's ten games in but both teams have some players. Forrest Koumas grew up a little bit tonight. You can't get in a better situation to get experience as a true freshman. Hopefully we'll both go on to have really good years."

And although Jack Leggett has now seemingly cleared the air between the two old rivals, there is no doubt this series will continue to build in intensity, whether it be in South Carolina, Omaha, or anywhere in between.

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