Sunday's Regional championship game between South Carolina and Clemson did not have quite the tension as Saturday's meeting, but it was every bit as close and nerve-wracking. Jordan Montgomery put together a solid start for South Carolina and Jonathan Meyer was superb in relief for Clemson, but in the end it was the Gamecocks holding on for a 4-3 win to advance to next week's Super Regional. It has not been determined whether the Super Regional will run Friday-Sunday or Saturday-Monday, but one thing is for certain; it will be played at Carolina Stadium where Carolina has yet to be defeated in postseason play.
"It was another one of those baseball games that we tend to have when we play Clemson," head coach Ray Tanner said. "It was a game where we scored early and Jordan and Tyler (Webb) were outstanding. We played good defense. We scored enough to hold up."
South Carolina wasted little time getting to a Clemson bullpen that has been overtaxed this weekend. David Haseldon got the start for the Tigers on the mound after throwing 62 pitches in Friday's win over Coastal, but just didn't have anything working. On the third pitch of the game, Joey Pankake hit one deep to left center and off the wall for a triple as Jay Baum crashed into the wall attempting to make a leaping catch. Baum had a chance at redemption at the plate as Evan Marzilli lifted a fly ball to medium depth, but Pankake was able to just get under the tag from Spencer Kieboom to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. After Christian Walker singled and advanced to third on a throwing error, Regional MVP Adam Matthews came through again, delivering an RBI single to left to give the Gamecocks a 2-0 lead. Connor Bright followed with a double off the wall in left for a 3-0 lead and ended the day for Haseldon.
"We have scouting reports on all of the opponents, and especially Clemson," Tanner said. "We knew they were going to start a right-hander. When we found out it was Haseldon, the scouting report was that he was going to throw a lot of strikes early. Let's take some aggressive swings and we were fortunate enough to put a couple of runs on the board."
That's when Meyer would enter the game and the hits and runs would be few and far between. Meyer would give up just seven hits after the three first inning hits off Haseldon, and would retire nine straight at one point.
"Early on, it was the slider away," Meyer said. "As the game went on, my arm was loose and I was able to locate a fastball to both the outside and inside to righties."
Fortunately for Carolina, Montgomery was cruising along with the early help he had.
"It's always good to go out there with a lead," Montgomery said. "I had a lead the whole game. It's good to have a cushion. Even if they get a hit, just hold them."
The freshman allowed just one hit and one walk in the first five innings, but had to escape trouble in the second. After walking Jay Baum and allowing a Jon McGibbon double with one out, Montgomery got Spencer Kieboom to pop up to third and sat down Brad Felder looking to end the threat.
After a Chase Vergason single scored Tanner English to stretch the lead to 4-0 in the sixth, the Tigers would begin to chip away at the lead. Steve Wilkerson blooped a single into left to end Montgomery's streak of 12 batters being retired, then Thomas Brittle brought him home with a double. Brittle would come in on a Phil Pohl groundout to trim the lead to 4-2. Montgomery would get out of the inning without further damage and would leave after 6.2 innings. Montgomery (6-1) would finish with five hits allowed, two earned runs, one walk, and six strikeouts.
Tyler Webb entered the game and would go the rest of the way, earning his third save.
"Our plan was that we would go to Beal, especially with their right-handers, but he was pretty good. Tyler has been a guy who contributed in a big way for us the entire year and his entire career. Today there was a little extra there. His change-up was as good as it's ever been. His fastball had a little more life today. We had Beal down there ready to go, but his stuff was so good. Probably for the first time in Tyler's career he told me ‘I'm good, don't come get me.' He's never said that. He's always the guy who's happy with the role that he has to make a contribution to be a set-up guy and to do what he's asked to do and not say much about it. He was really good today."
It wouldn't be Carolina/Clemson without some ninth inning drama. After striking out Pohl to begin the ninth, Baum would single off Webb. After McGibbon went down on strikes, Baum took second on catcher indifference. Kieboom brought Baum home with a single to bring up Brad Felder, the same Felder who launched a homerun against Matt Price on Saturday night.
Felder sent the first pitch deep to right center that appeared could be on the way to the Clemson bullpen. Matthews went back to the track, then began circling as Gamecock gasps began to turn to cheers. "You're just hoping he trips on a rock, or sneezes or something," Shaffer said. Matthews did neither and hauled it in and Carolina was headed to the Super Regionals for the 10th time in the last 13 years.
"I can't say enough about Coach Leggett and his team and how talented and good they are," Tanner said. "They wouldn't go away. Kieboom gets a hit through the right side to keep things going. They're a great program. We pitched Shaffer as well as we possibly could have. Pohl is outstanding. We probably can't play any better."
The win extended South Carolina's NCAA Tournament record streak to 19 games, its home winning streak to 21 games, and six straight victories over the Tigers in postseason play. Carolina will host the winner of the Charlottesville Regional winner.
"Wherever you go, whatever sport it may be, teams are a little better at home," Tanner said. "We feel like we're a pretty good team all the time, but we're better at home. Our guys play with tremendous awareness, and our fans elevate that. Our fans don't want us to lose. They try to do their part to keep out guys going and picking us up. It's the best environment you could possibly be in. I can't say enough about the support we get and our fans."
C - Spencer Kieboom, CU
1B - Rich Witten, CCU
2B - Chase Vergason, SC
SS - Joey Pankake. SC
3B - LB Dantzler, SC
OF - Brad Felder, CU
OF - Adam Matthews, SC
OF - Jacob May, CCU
DH - Phil Pohl, CU
P - Colby Holmes, SC
P - Jordan Montgomery, SC
Adam Matthews, SC
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