9th inning mojo gives Gamecocks 7-5 victory

It was a Carolina-Clemson game for the ages – the crowd was split evenly on a neutral field, and the Tigers went up big early, only to watch the Gamecocks battle back and tie the score. Both teams staged dramatic rallies in the final inning. USC scored 3 runs. Clemson scored a run. With two outs, they brought the winning run to the plate, only to pop out, and the Gamecocks went home 7-5 victors.

Friday night at Clemson, the Tigers won the first game in the rivalry series with a bottom of the 8th rally, but with the score tied 4-4 in the same frame on Saturday, South Carolina pitcher Matt Price wasn't letting them have a repeat, and the Gamecock bats in the top of the 9th scored three key runs to put the garnet-clad players on top with a 7-4 lead. Price and Michael Roth closed it out in the bottom of the ninth, holding the Tigers to one run, and the Yardcocks comeback was complete, a 7-5 gem.

It was the Tigers first loss of the season after opening with eight straight wins. Clemson came into the series ranked 13th nationally, and the Gamecocks were ranked 15th.

Saturday's game was played in Greenville at Fluor Field, and the Tigers struck early, getting four runs in the first two innings, but the USC pitching staff held Clemson to six straight goose eggs on the score board after that, and South Carolina climbed back in to it, scoring two in the third on Jackie Bradley's first home run of the year, then scored one in the fifth, tying it with one in the seventh, and then taking the lead and the win in the ninth with their three runs across the plate.

After giving up the four runs early, Dyson stopped the bleeding, shutting out the Tiger offense in the third fourth, fifth and innings, and giving his team a chance to claw their way back into the game. Jimmy Revan came in with one batter left to face in the bottom of the sixth inning, and gave the Gamecocks two strong innings before giving way to Price. Price stayed until the final Clemson batter came to the plate, when Ray Tanner sent Michael Roth in to close it out, which he did, coaxing Jeff Schaus in to that final long noisy out.

Bradley batted second on this day, and he and Whit Merrifield who batted first were a potent one-two punch for the Gamecocks, combing for six runs between them in the win. The two were the difference in the decisive ninth inning, when Merrifield smashed a two-out double to right-center to score Scott Wingo, who had walked and then stole second. Bradley followed with an RBI single to right field to score Merrifield, and then advanced to second on the throw. After Christian Walker walked, catcher Kyle Enders singled to left and scored Bradley.

"It was a great comeback," Tanner said. "I'm proud of my team. It's a good sign that you can battle."

The folks at Fluor Field made perfect hosts for the sold-out crowd of 7,105 fans, except for one thing – the staff their acknowledged that whatever the attendance number, it would be at least one short of a record crowd, and it was. It went into the record books as the second-highest attendance in ballpark history. The home Greenville Drive team still officially holds the record.

The teams will play for the series crown at 2 p.m. Sunday in Columbia at Carolina Stadium. "We wanted to even this series up and take it back to Columbia," said Merrifield, who extended his hitting streak to 23 games dating to last season, leaving him just two shy of the school record set by Greg Keatley in 1976.

"We knew if we fought and got this win, we'd go back home. That's where we play best," said Bradley. He praised his teammates on the mound. "They really held in there. Our pitching has been excellent all year. That's big."

Tanner was also happy with his pitching staff, but had special praise for Bradley. "He possesses some intangibles that you'd like to instill in all of your players," he said. "He has confidence even when you have some adversity."

Clemson coach Jack Leggett was clearly disappointed after the game. "We came out ready to go and pitched pretty well," he said. "We had a good lead, and came out and swung the bats good early, but we got tentative for a while. We took too many pitches in hitters' counts, and we took called strikes we shouldn't have taken. We just couldn't pick up that fifth run, and I knew it would be a run that could come back and haunt us at the end."

South Carolina improves to 6-3 on the season. USC freshman left-hander Tyler Webb will face off against Clemson right-hander Scott Weismann. Webb has no record and a 0.00 ERA in 8 2/3 innings pitched, while Weismann is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA.

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