Regional Preview: Clemson

It's safe to say that South Carolina has had a recent edge over rival Clemson across the board. None of that has been more evident than on the baseball field, particularly in NCAA Tournament play. Nothing would fix things better than winning the Columbia Regional on Carolina's home field.

If there is a team in the Columbia Regional that South Carolina is familiar with it is their arch rival, Clemson. The Tigers will be making their second postseason appearance in Columbia, but first in almost 30 years after beating South Carolina 10-4 in 1976. This will be Clemson's first appearance in Columbia under the current NCAA Tournament format. Clemson is 3-4 overall in postseason match-ups with the Gamecocks and 3-0 against their opening opponent, Coastal. In 2012, Clemson is just 9-9 in road games - including a loss in its only game in Columbia - and 3-3 in neutral sites games - including a loss to Carolina in Charleston.

To say that the Tigers have been an up-and-down team in 2012 is an understatement. In just the last two weekends of the regular season, Clemson took two of three from Florida State, then went to Winston Salem and was swept by Wake Forest. The Tigers then beat Florida State for the third time in four meetings in the ACC Tournament, but that victory was sandwiched between losses to Virginia - who won all four meetings this season with Clemson - and Georgia Tech. There is no real feel for how good the Tigers can be, but they have proven that the can beat anybody if they're playing well and they can lose to anybody if they don't play well.

One of the causes of recent problems is the fact that the Tiger offense has struggled to put runs on the board in recent weeks. The Tigers have scored just 15 runs in their last six contests, nine of which came in the win over Florida State. In the Wake Forest sweep, Clemson put up just three runs in three games. Still, the Tiger offense is very capable of putting runs on the board. Clemson has scored 7+ runs in 22 games in 2012, scoring double figures in eight of those contests. Three Tigers have a batting average of over .300, Richie Shaffer (.339), Steve Wilkerson (.308), and Thomas Brittle (.303). Shaffer has been a tough out for anyone – especially the Gamecocks - and leads the team with 10 homeruns and is second with 46 RBI. Phil Pohl leads the team with 50 RBI and is second behind Shaffer with eight homeruns. Like Carolina, Clemson has gotten runners on base all season but haven't been able to get them home. On the season, Clemson has left 503 runners on base, 37 more than the Gamecocks. The Tigers will have to face a tough left-handed pitcher in Coastal's Austin Wallace.

Last month Clemson suffered two key injuries to their pitching staff. Staff ace Kevin Brady and reliever Matt Campbell both suffered injuries on an April 27th loss to Georgia Tech. Brady strained his hamstring covering on a play at first base in the sixth inning and Campbell went down in the ninth with a "Lat" strain in his back. Brady has recently returned to the staff, but only in a relief role. He saw action in the Wake Forest series and in the ACC Tournament and is expected to only be available in that same role in the Regional this weekend. Brady is only 1-2 on the season, but not by his own doing. Opponents were hitting just .226 against Brady and the right-hander has a 2.52 ERA in 60.2 innings pitched. Campbell, who appeared in 13 games, has pitched 25.1 innings and has a 2.49 ERA.

Kevin Pohle is expected to start Friday against Coastal. He will be making his 14th start of the season and is 6-4 on the season. The right-hander is not an overpowering pitcher, striking out 39 batters in 71.1 innings pitched and has walked 28 batters. Pohle will take a 3.66 ERA into Friday's contest. With Pohle taking the mound Friday, Dominic Leone – who has been in Connecticut for a death in the family and will be back with the team for Friday's opener - likely will not start until Sunday's game. Leone is 6-4 on the year with a 5.49 ERA. Leone has pitched more innings than anyone else than on the staff (77) and is second on the team in strikeouts with 60.

Saturday's starter will be Daniel Gossett, who will be starting his tenth game. Gossett is 6-3 on the season with a 4.50 ERA. The Freshman right-hander has struck out 79 batters in 70 innings pitched and opponents are hitting just .227 against him.

Scott Firth and Jonathan Meyer lead the bullpen in relief appearance with 22 apiece. Firth is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and two saves, while Meyer is 2-5 with a 4.31 ERA. Patrick Andrews has appeared in 20 games and has a 2-3 record and 5.52 in 29.1 innings pitched. Throw Brady into the mix coming out of the bullpen and the Tigers could be a dangerous team if they have a lead late into the game.

Should Clemson beat Coastal in game one Friday and South Carolina beats Manhattan in game two, Saturday's winner's bracket game between the Gamecocks and Tigers will be one of the most highly anticipated, tension-filled game in the short history of the current Regional format.


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