College baseball's best rivalry?

The best rivalry in college baseball? Batgate. Emotions. Charleston. And more. South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner previews the latest chapter in the always entertaining Carolina-Clemson rivalry which is renewed tonight at 6 p.m.

Is the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry the best in college baseball?

South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner says he doesn't have enough info to say for sure.

But is it in the conversation? No doubt.

"It seems like to me that it's a pretty special one," Tanner said Thursday afternoon as he previewed the latest chapter in this in-state narrative. "Maybe the best, if not, certainly among them. And that's something to be proud of for our programs, for our state. I think it's really neat."

Tonight the No. 2 Gamecocks and No. 15 Tigers take their traveling road show, as one journalist called it, to Charleston's Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park for game-one of this weekend's three-site, three-game series.

The series returns to its Charleston roots tonight, before moving to Columbia Saturday and on to Clemson for the finale Sunday.

The new format, which featured a neutral-site game in Greenville the last two seasons, has added another element of uniqueness to the rivalry with several other cities in the state also wanting a turn for their piece of the action.

The current format allows each team to throw their best pitchers -- which wouldn't be possible with later-in-the-season mid-week games -- while showcasing the teams to fans in parts of the state that maybe wouldn't otherwise get to see the game. It also provides an early test and evaluation of each team with conference play approaching quickly.

While the battle for the Palmetto State has to take a backseat to more storied rivalries nationally in football, that's simply not the case in baseball.

This one has it all. Close quarters, of course. A long history. The first game of the series was played in Charleston 113 years ago, according to the Charleston Post and Courier. And most importantly, high drama on and off the field.

In 2010, the Gamecocks defeated Clemson twice in a row to eliminate the Tigers from the College World Series on the way to South Carolina's first national championship. Last year, the rivalry went outside the lines with the now infamous "batgate."

All this and more makes for what could be one of the biggest sports spectacles to hit Charleston in some time.

That was the message when Tanner heard from The Citadel head baseball coach Fred Jordan earlier this week.

"Coach Jordan let me a message (Wednesday) night and he said I cant remember the kind of buzz going around in Charleston like this before," Tanner said. "He said that it's really neat. I think its fun to be a part of that. I know it's special certainly from a coaching standpoint, but for the players and the fans to get a chance to enjoy this -- I think its really neat."

Hot bats cooled off?

There's no doubt last year's episode added another nice wrinkle to an already special rivalry.

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett questioned Jackie Bradley, Jr's bat and whether it was heated following an opposite field home run in game-two of that seasons' series between the two teams.

Tanner wasn't happy, and responded accordingly following game-three when he made it well-known his thoughts about how Leggett handled the situation.

The two coaches talked through the situation shortly after last year's series, and Tanner hopes it's back to just baseball this time.

"We've had a really good relationship, Coach Leggett and I have for many many years. We've had good games, good competitions, and it has been that way."

"I didn't like that," Tanner said of how the emotions came into play last year. "I know Coach Leggett didn't like it either. That's not who we are. That's not who they are. It hasn't been a part of this rivalry and we just want to compete and play baseball [this year]. And, so, yeah, that's what I want it to be about, just baseball."

While many contend that the emotions involved in the now infamous batgate will help to push the match-up to another level emotionally this year, Tanner says he and Leggett discussed the situation and then simply moved on.

"There were some emotions in that game and some things were said by their side and by our side," Tanner said. "It's not, 'they're guilty and we're not.' We were both guilty, and that's just part of it, I guess occasionally that's what a rivalry is involved in."

Looking for veterans

While veterans like Michael Roth, Matt Price, Evan Marzilli and Adam Matthews know what this series is all about, many South Carolina players will experience the match-up for the first time tonight.

"It will be interesting," Tanner says. "They know about it. They hear about it. Many of them have seen it, witnessed it, but they haven't been involved in it yet.

Some positions are already seemingly set with young players manning them well. But for positions where there's a decision to be made, experience will be a key factor.

"I think one thing I'm going to try to do -- I don't know if I can -- but I'm going to try to put as old a team as I can put on the field (Friday)," he said. "I don't necessarily know if that is our best lineup, but because of the emotions involved, I kind of will make the decision on [the] lineup with that in mind."

That means junior Chase Vergason could be the leader to get the start at second base, where he and two other players have gotten starts this season. And that Tanner will likely look to an older player in the designated hitter role.

But certain freshman, like shortstop Joey Pankake, are destined to experience the rivalry first hand for the first time tonight.

Tanner talked to his players about dealing with the emotions of a big game.

"Baseball is unlike a lot of other sports," he said. "You have to be careful with your emotions in our sport. You can't be too high and you certainly can't be too low. It's a game of failure. ... You can't let it linger and certainly this is an emotional series. I think it's very important that you do try to remain as level as possible throughout."

The pitching showdowns

In game-one, South Carolina will start senior lefthander Michael Roth (1-0, 0.69 ERA) on the mound. The Greer, SC native has made two starts for a total of 13.0 innings pitched. He has allowed four hits (.091 opponents' batting average) and three walks with 13 strikeouts.

The Tigers will counter with junior righthander Kevin Brady (0-0, 0.90 ERA) on Friday. The Gaithersburg, MD native has made two starts for a total of 10.0 innings pitched. He has allowed eight hits (.222 opponents' batting average) and two walks with nine strikeouts.

In game-two, the Gamecocks will send out junior righty Matt Price (1-0, 1.80 ERA) on the mound. The Sumter, SC native has made two starts for a total of 10.0 innings pitched. He has given up one hit (.032 opponents' batting average) and four walks with 15 strikeouts.

Clemson will counter with junior righty Dominic Leone (2-0, 3.27 ERA) on Saturday. The Norwich, CT native has made two starts for a total of 11.0 innings pitched. He has allowed eight hits (.229 opponents' batting average) and four walks with 10 strikeouts.

In game-three, South Carolina will start junior righthander Colby Holmes (2-0, 0.00 ERA) on the mound. The Conway, SC native has made two starts for a total of 10.2 innings pitched. He has yielded four hits (.121 opponents' batting average) and three walks with 12 strikeouts.

The Tigers' starter for game-three on Sunday has yet to be determined.
- Clemson Media Relations

The when and where

March 2 - 6 p.m.; Charleston, S.C. - Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park

March 3 - 2 p.m.; Columbia, S.C. - Carolina Stadium (Video - GamecocksOnline.com (Subscription))

March 4 - 2 p.m.; Clemson, S.C. - Doug Kingsmore Stadium (Video - ESPN3.com)

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