Clemson (34-27) vs. Coastal Carolina (42-18), noon, ESPNU
South Carolina (42-17) vs. noon winner, 4 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolinians are proud of their college baseball.
Those watching ESPNU Saturday afternoon got to see why.
Clemson and South Carolina battled through four hours of emotional highs and lows before the Gamecocks escaped with a 5-4 victory in 12 innings as a sellout crowd of 8,242 watched at Carolina Stadium.
Freshman shortstop Joey Pankake, who had singled to drive in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, led off the USC 12th with a single. After Evan Marzilli missed on one attempted bunt USC switched to the hit-and-run and Marzilli dumped the ball into right-center field to send Pankake to third.
After Christian Walker popped out, LB Dantzler lined a 2-2 pitch over right-fielder Brad Felder’s head and Pankake scampered home to touch off a mob scene on the field and in the stands.
South Carolina (42-17) extended its winning streak in NCAA play to 18 games and advanced to the regional championship round at 4 p.m. Sunday. The opponent will be the winner of the noon Sunday elimination game between Clemson (34-27) and Coastal Carolina (42-18).
Should the two-time defending national champion Gamecocks lose Sunday afternoon, another game would be played Monday night.
“There was just so much that happened in that game,” said USC coach Ray Tanner. “It was just a tremendous college baseball game between two teams that didn’t want to give in.”
“I’m just proud of my team,” said Clemson coach Jack Leggett. “I thought we played extremely hard. … This is one of those classic games. You can go both sides and think of little things here and there that could have made a difference.
“Both teams played hard, both teams played tough and did things they had to do.”
The Gamecocks, the No. 8 national seed, saw a 2-0 lead turn into a 4-2 deficit over the seventh and eighth innings and had to score single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to force extra innings.
The Tigers scored three runs in the seventh off USC ace starter Michael Roth to erase a 2-0 Gamecocks lead established when Adam Matthews homered in the fourth inning.
Spencer Kieboom led off the Clemson seventh with a single and went to second on a single by Brad Felder. Jason Stolz attempted to bunt the runners over, but Roth was able to throw Kieboom out at third.
Steve Wilkerson doubled in one run and Thomas Brittle singled to tie the score.
Tanner lifted Roth for ace closer Matt Price. Price walked Richie Shaffer, then induced Phil Pohl to hit a grounder to second. Shaffer was forced but Pankake’s throw to first was high, allowing Wilkerson to score the go-ahead run.
The Gamecocks threatened with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Chase Vergason drew a two-out walk and Dante Rosenberg singled Vergason to third. Felder made a diving catch of Pankake’s fly ball to right to preserve Clemson’s lead and cap an effective start by Clemson freshman Daniel Gossett. The right-hander allowed four hits and walked three while striking out eight in seven innings.
Felder lined a home run well over the right-field fence in the eighth to extend Clemson’s lead to 4-2.
Marzilli singled to lead off the USC eighth and Walker followed with a double to pull USC back within a run. Clemson relievers retired the next three batters.
The Gamecocks tied the score in the ninth and had the potential winning run thrown out at home on the same play.
Pinch-hitter Kyle Martin led off the inning with a single against Jonathan Meyer. Vergason’s walk moved pinch-runner T.J. Costen to second and Dante Rosenberg sacrificed the runners over. Pankake greeted Clemson reliever Kevin Brady (1-3) with a sharp single to center. Costen scored, but Vergason slid in to home too far away to touch the base. Kieboom alertly caught the throw from Thomas Brittle, lunged and tagged Vergason as he tried to reach back for the plate for the inning’s second out. Marzilli flied out and the teams headed to extra innings.
“… That was a big play by Brittle to come and get the ball hard,” Leggett said “Vergason runs well. (Brittle) came and was aggressive. Vergason slid behind and Kieboom had the presence of mind to come back and tag him.”
McGibbon doubled and got to third in the Clemson 10th but Felder struck out to end the inning.
Matthews flirted with a game-winning homer in the USC 10th, hitting a two-out double off the yellow marking atop the left-field fence. The ball hit the top of the fence and bounced back into play. Sean Sullivan struck and the game continued.
Clemson had an apparent run wiped out by an interference call in the second inning.
Pohl opened the Tigers second with a single to center. Jay Baum and Jon McGibbon followed with walks to load the bases with none out. Kieboom hit a grounder to shortstop to begin a 6-4-3 double play as Pohl crossed home plate.
But umpires ruled McGibbon interfered with pivot man Vergason as he made the turn at second bases. The ball was dead and runners could not advance.
“(McGibbon) slid in and made contact, hooked the infielder,” crew chief and second-base umpire Jim Garman told a pool reporter. “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”
Felder flied out to center to end the inning.
“We played 62 games and haven’t had one call like that all year,” said Leggett, who chose his words carefully. “It’s just a tough time for that to come to surface.”
Marzilli had three hits and Pankake, Dantzler and Matthews added two apiece for the Gamecocks.
Felder had three of Clemson’s eight hits.
Evan Beal (4-4), who missed some practice this week with a virus, pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to get the victory.
USC has won three of four games against Clemson this season and has won the last five meetings with the Tigers in NCAA play.
Clemson beat Coastal Carolina, 11-3, in the regional opener Friday afternoon.