South Carolina tops Clemson in extra innings

When South Carolina and Clemson meet on the diamond, it is going to be a battle. Friday night was no different, but as has been the case more times than not in recent history, it was Carolina coming out on top. It took 11 innings, but the Gamecocks beat the Tigers, 3-2, in the opening game of the three-game series Friday night in Charleston.

Friday's match-up between rivals South Carolina and Clemson in Charleston was going to be a pitcher's duel. With the flame-throwing Kevin Brady for Clemson facing the crafty left-hander Michael Roth, runs were going to be at a premium. With a steady wind gusting up to 15-20 mph blowing straight in off the Ashley River behind the outfield wall, scoring runs was going to be that much tougher.

It took extra innings – 11 to be exact – to come out with a winner, but it was back-to-back hits by Carolina newcomers Sean Sullivan and Connor Bright to drive home Christian Walker and pinch-runner Patrick Harrington to lead the Gamecocks to a 3-2 win over the Tigers at Joe Riley Stadium Friday night.

After a Christian Walker walk started the eleventh inning, LB Dantzler came to the plate and laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Walker over to second.

That's when the newcomers stepped up.

Tanner, as he always seems to do, pushed the right button by sending Kyle Martin to the plate to pinch hit for Grayson Greiner – who was 0-for-4 on the night. Martin came through, driving the ball to left field to move Walker to third with just one out.

"I was just trying to do the match-up there," Tanner said. "K-Mart has been swinging the bat pretty good for us. He's a guy that could have started tonight, but I just wanted to go a little bit younger with so many young guys (already) in there. He stayed late and got a hit through the left side; wasn't able to score the run but he kept the inning going for us."

Joey Pankake struck out swinging for the second out, but his at bat showed Sean Sullivan something. Sullivan laced one through the left side of the infield and into left field to score Walker and give the Gamecocks a 2-1 lead.

"I was just watching Joey in the at bat before me and he was feeding him a lot of curve balls so I was going to go up there and sit on that and fortunately he threw one that I could handle and I got a base hit and we were able to hang on," Sullivan said.

The Gamecocks were not done. On the very next pitch, Connor Bright – in his first plate appearance of the night after a defensive substitution – singled to right to score Patrick Harrington, who pinch ran for Martin.

"That's the reason why Sullivan was in there tonight," Tanner said. "He's been around the block a few times; he's an older guy. Then we got a big hit from K-Mart to get us in that position and then Connor Bright gets one to the right side."

The Gamecocks would need both runs as Richie Shaffer led the inning off with a double. Shaffer was questionable to play with a groin injury, but responded with a 2-for-2 night with three walks and scoring both Tiger runs. He would later come home on a Pankake error at short.

"It wasn't going to be easy," Tanner said of that last half inning. "Shaffer, you have to tip your cap to him, playing hurt. He got ready this week and had some great at bats. He's a tough out and he stepped up there and got a big hit and brought the tying run to the plate."

A Dantzler error with two outs would put runners on the corner for pinch-hitter Jay Baum. Baum seemingly had a single to center to tie the game, but Evan Marzilli came charging in and made an unbelievable diving catch to end the game.

"I thought off the bat that I had a shot at it and I just ran hard after it and didn't know if I was going to get to it until the last second," Matthews said.

Carolina got the scoring started in their half of the third. Adam Matthews led off with a grounder in the hole at short, but Jason Stolz could not throw him out. Marzilli failed to get the bunt down and went down swinging. Tanner English would get his bunt down to move Matthews to second. Christian Walker fisted one to the bag at second and it squirted under the glove of Stolz and Matthews scored.

Clemson appeared to be primed to tie it in the bottom of the fifth inning. After a Stolz groundout, Dominic Attanasio grounded one between first and second. Walker made the play, but his throw to Roth covering the bag was wide for a throwing error. Attanasio would advance to second on a wild pitch. Garrett Boulware would single to center and Attanasio was waved home by Leggett. Marzilli came up throwing and gunned Attanasio down at the plate to keep to game 1-0.

The Tigers would finally break Roth's stranglehold in the seventh. Richie Shaffer – who was questionable to even play – drew his second walk of the game. Spence Kieboom bunted down the first base line and was tagged by Walker, but the sacrifice was good. Stolz came through with a single to center to score Shaffer. Marzilli had Shaffer gunned down, but Grayson Greiner could not field the ball cleanly and the game was tied at 1-1.

One inning later Clemson had a chance to take the lead. After Jon McGibbon struck out, Thomas Brittle was hit by Roth. Steve Wilkerson hit a grounder to short and just beat out Joey Pankake's throw. That would signal the end of the day for Roth as Forrest Koumas replaced the senior ace. After Phil Pohl flied to center for the second out, Shaffer drew his third walk of the game to load the bases. Koumas struck out Kieboom to end the inning and the game was headed for extra innings.

"It was the kind of game it was supposed to be," Tanner said. "Two pretty good teams going at it and fans got some free baseball. It was anybody's game. We failed to make a couple of plays at the end and then Marzilli makes a big one to end the game."

Forrest Koumas picked up the win in relief, while Daniel Gossett took the loss for Clemson. Nolan Belcher earned the save. Carolina moves to 8-0 on the season while the Tigers are 4-3. Game two of the series is tomorrow in Columbia, pending severe weather moving in to the Columbia area.

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