Gamecocks tame Tigers in 12 innings

In a fight that would rival Ali/Frazier, South Carolina and Clemson battled for 12 rounds, each landing staggering blows to the other, but it was LB Dantzler and the Gamecocks that landed the knockout blow in the 12th, sending Carolina to Regional championship contest Sunday afternoon with a 5-4, thrilling victory in front of a packed Carolina Stadium

It was a year in the making. In the end, it was well worth the wait.

South Carolina and Clemson nearly met up in the 2011 Columbia Super Regional. The Tigers came up short of the Super Regional, but the NCAA sent them right back in the 2012 Columbia Regional.

Let's all take a moment to applaud the NCAA.

Some didn't like the fact that Clemson and Carolina were in the same Regional. After Saturday's game, what college baseball fan could be upset about the match-up?

In what could go down as one of the best games in NCAA history, Clemson (34-27) and South Carolina (42-17) went to battle like true heavyweights. There were controversial calls, quirky plays, and anything else that could be imagined in a college baseball game, but in the end it was LB Dantzler that landed the knockout blow in the final round with his walkoff single in the 12th inning to give the Gamecocks a 5-4 victory to advance to the Regional championship game.

Clemson appeared primed to land the first blow. Phil Pohl led off the second with a single and Jay Baum and Jon McGibbon walked to load the bases with no outs. Spencer Kieboom grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Pohl. However, interference was called by second base umpire Jim Garman as McGibbon grabbed at Chase Vergason's arm as Vergason was throwing to first. By rule, it is a dead ball and any runners on base are sent back to the last base they legally tagged. That sent Pohl back to third and Baum back to second with two outs.

"The force play at second," Garman said. "(McGibbon) slid in and made contact, hooked the infielder. So instead of just sliding in, it's a safety rule instead of just sliding, he's making contact to try and disrupt the play. So when you call interference, no runs can be made so everybody has to go back."

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett wasn't buying the call.

"We played 62 ball games and haven't had one call like that all year," Leggett said. "It's just a tough time for that to come to surface. Let the teams play and let us do our thing."

"I don't think I've seen it this year necessarily," Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "But it did happen in the SEC Tournament a few years ago where we played LSU. Same type of call."

South Carolina would end up delivering the first blow of the game via a two-run homerun by Adam Matthews in the fourth, who has five RBI in the two Regional games.

Clemson appeared to get right back in it in their half of the fifth, but this time it would be the Gamecock defense that came up with the big play. With runners on first and second and one out, Steve Wilkerson hit one that was ticketed for left field. Joey Pankake made a sensational stop then had the presence of mind to throw the ball to third to get the lead runner. Thomas Brittle hit one off the wrist of Roth, who knocked it down and threw him out to end the inning and escape trouble.

The Tigers would finally break through in the seventh, and in a big way. Clemson came up with three runs on four hits with Wilkerson, Brittle, and Pohl all delivering RBI base hits. Roth would be chased in the frame and charged with all three runs. Matt Price entered the game to get out of the inning.

Brad Felder would deliver what many thought would be the knockout blow in the eighth when he delivered a blast to right, tossed his bat in the air, and watched it sail over the busses and onto Williams Street.

"I was just battling," Felder said. "I had two strikes and just looked to put the ball in play and stay short. He threw a slider and left it up, and I got good contact."

The two-time defending champions would not go down that easy. They picked themselves up off the mat, dusted themselves off, and did what they do best; battle.

"We're just thinking one run at a time," Evan Marzilli said. "Just try to keep it simple, get our crowd into it and hopefully let them do some of the work."

That's exactly what the Gamecocks did. Marzilli singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and came all the way home on a double down the leftfield line by Christian Walker that Tyler Slaton – who replaced Baum in left – misplayed in the corner. That would be all Carolina could get and headed to the ninth looking for another rally.

Price did his job, striking out the side in order in the top of the ninth and keeping the momentum on Carolina's side. Kyle Martin pinch-hit for Tanner English and singled over second to being the ninth. Chase Vergason was attempting to lay down a bunt, but Kevin Brady couldn't find the strike zone and walked him. Dante Rosenberg delivered a beautiful sacrifice bunt to advance the runners and bring up Joey Pankake. Pankake singled up the middle, Costen – who ran for Martin – scored, Vergason was sent home but missed the plate on his slide attempt and was tagged out by Kieboom before he could get back to the plate.

"He probably was going to be out with a pretty good throw," Tanner said. "As a runner, you don't know if it's going to be on line or not, so he took an angle where he could reach back and tag, although he didn't get close enough where he could reach back."

In the tenth, Matthews all but put the game away with a walkoff homerun. He hit a laser to left, hitting the top of the wall. Somehow the ball hit the top of the wall in the Clemson bullpen at the wrong spot, causing it to bounce back onto the field instead of out of the park. Matthews would have to settle for a double, where he was left stranded.

Dantzler would pick everyone up in the twelfth, roping a one-out fastball deep to right that a drawn-in Felder couldn't catch up to. Even if Felder caught the ball, Pankake would have virtually been able to walk home with the winning run.

"I really can't describe it," Dantzler said of being put on the ‘Tiger killer' list. "I'm just happy we got the win and excited to go out tomorrow. As far as being on the list or anything, I can't say anything about that. I can't describe it."

8,242 fans crammed into Carolina Stadium to watch the throwdown, none of which could come back too disappointed. From the seventh inning on, you could cut the tension with a knife as the fans went on a rollercoaster ride with the teams on the field.

"It was an unbelievable atmosphere," Dantzler said. "I really don't think there's a better place in the country as far as fans and the energy going around the stadium today. A few times today, I had to step back and enjoy it."

Both teams will go back and think of where the momentum shifted and what they could have done differently, but that's how it goes when these two heavyweights slug it out for 12 rounds.

"We've had so many, there's no question, over the years," Tanner said. "It's been incredible. It's great. Like I said yesterday, Coach Leggett and I, people think we're entirely different, but we're very similar. We like to compete. We like the competition. Both of us are very intense. We appreciate the game and the rivalry. We've had tremendous games."

Clemson will be forced to put this loss behind them quickly because Coastal is waiting for their 12:00 meeting tomorrow to avenge Friday's 11-3 loss to the Tigers.

"We've been here before," Leggett said. "We've done this thing before in terms of losing a tough ball game and turning it around. Now it becomes a mental game. We have to give Coastal Carolina our best shot and hope for a second ball game."

Dominic Leone will start for the Tigers against the Chanticleers.

Meanwhile, Carolina will have nearly 24 hours to rest up and get ready to face the winner of the noon match-up. That rest is something they will need after such a draining game against their rival.

"We have a lot of veteran players that have been there before," Dantzler said. "We have a lot of veteran leaders. They'll make us come out tomorrow, focus and go."

Tanner said that Jordan Montgomery would get the start in Sunday's game.

"Jordan will start tomorrow," Tanner said. "We'll pitch the guys that are available. Matt Price I'm sure will be out. He got in the 60's I believe. Tyler Webb might be okay. Evan Beal probably will have something in him tomorrow. We just have to evaluate it. Coach Meyers will tell me what the scenario looks like. We fought through this game today and now we have the chance to play at 4:00 again."

Who's up for a rematch?

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