Clemson explodes late in 12-2 win over USC
South Carolina outfielder Whit Merrifield would probably like to have just one play back from Wednesday night's 12-2 loss to Clemson – a misplayed fly ball in centerfield. The ball bounced in and out of his glove, allowing the Tigers to score easily, keep two runners on the bases and only have one out.
Would a catch have kept a huge shift in momentum from heading Clemson's way? We'll never know, but it doesn't mean he wouldn't like to find out.
"I just missed it. It was embarrassing, frustrating, it was disappointing but it won't happen again," Merrifield said. "They're a good team but still we feel we can beat them. Tonight they just outplayed us. Sure would like to see them again, but you know it's always tough to lose at home especially in front of a great crowd like we had tonight. It's tough."
While the scoreboard read a double digit win for the Tigers (28-14), the game started off as anything but an offensive showcase. Both teams starters found themselves locked in a pitcher's duel to start the night as Clemson's Scott Weismann and USC's Adam Westmoreland (3-2) each worked the first four innings to a scoreless draw.
However, Weismann took his exit after the fourth due to a regulated pitch count as Westmoreland trotted back out for the fifth. Carolina's freshman lefty finished the fifth inning by retiring the first 15 batters he faced in a row and recording six strikeouts along the way. But the sixth turned out to be anything but the picture perfect start. After issuing a leadoff walk to Brad Miller and a single to John Nester, Clemson took the lead on Jeff Schaus' fly ball to Merrifield in center. Though it would have been an unquestioned sacrifice fly, Merrifield watched as the ball bounced out of his glove and allowed the runner to score easily and the out to be saved as the inning continued.
"That's part of the game. Things are going to happen. Whit Merrifield's our guy. He hasn't done too many things wrong since he's been in this program," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "That ball just popped out of his glove. That's part of it and that was a big inning for them. They certainly rallied after that."
After an RBI groundout and a run scoring single, the Tigers finished off their big sixth with a two run triple from Wilson Boyd as they cruised to a 5-0 lead. The offense kept coming for Clemson as they scored three more runs in the eighth on a solo homer by Ben Paulsen and a two run single from Nester with two outs.
The Gamecocks (27-15) tried to mount a rally in the eighth as Brady Thomas drew a one-out walk and Merrifield hit a two-out single to put two on for DeAngelo Mack. The hero of two previous rivalry games lined a double to center that scored two runs and ended the shutout at 8-2.
But Clemson erased any thoughts of a comeback in the top of the ninth as a single and a walk put two on for Kyle Parker who blasted a home run over the bullpen in right for three more runs. Nester ended the scoring with his second straight RBI single as the Tigers scored 12 runs on just 11 hits.
"They had timely hitting. Timely hitting is what won the game for them. We just couldn't stack AB's together and push some runs across. I'd say that was a lot different from the last couple of games where we were able to manage that and shut down their timely hitting and today we couldn't do it," Mack said. "Unfortunately that's just how baseball is sometimes. One minute you're shutting somebody down and the next minute it's 5-0. You can't help it. It's the way baseball is."
Since their 7-5 win over Carolina to snap a six-game losing streak in the series, the Tigers have won seven of the 10 games they've played. While they did drop two games against Virginia Tech over the weekend, Clemson coach Jack Leggett has been pleased with his team's new attitude.
"We played real well tonight, that's what I'm most concerned about. We've been playing pretty well lately. We had a little skid this past weekend, but for the last two and a half weeks we've been playing much better offensively," Leggett said. "We were able to put up a five spot there in the sixth inning and a three (in the eighth) and a four (in the ninth), and we were able to swing the bats pretty well. The second half of the game we played much better. They got a little bit tired and we took advantage of it. It was a good one for us."
Despite the scoring onslaught, USC did come one strikeout away as a staff from tying the season record for most strikeouts thrown in a game.
While the loss to the in-state rival hurts, Merrifield believes it can serve as a launching pad for the crucial end to the season. With four conference series remaining, the Gamecocks will need a strong finish to improve on their .500 record in league play. That effort starts with a three-game set against Florida in Gainesville this weekend.
"If anything it's going to fire us up going into the Florida series. This is a team that wants to win, and we know where we're at and we know where we want to be and we're going to do everything we can to get there. Losing like this is going to do nothing but fire us up. We'll be ready to go this weekend, I guarantee that," Merrifield said.
- Whit Merrifield's eighth inning single extended his hitting streak to seven games.
- The 12-2 margin is the first double figure win for either team since USC beat Clemson 12-0 in 2007. The last team to score double figures in a game was USC in a 10-1 win last season.
- The seven pitchers used by USC in the game is a season high.
- USC's DeAngelo Mack was given the Tom Price Award as the top player for USC in the this year's series. He finished the four games with seven hits, eight RBI and a .388 batting average. Clemson's Kyle Parker received the Bob Bradley Award after getting six hits, seven RBI and a .353 batting average.
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