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Tigers, Gamecocks renew rivalry in postseason

The matchup Clemson and South Carolina fans were anticipating when the NCAA announced both teams would be in the Columbia Regional happens today. The Tigers and Gamecocks play at Carolina Stadium in the second round of the tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.,  with the game scheduled for national television on ESPNU.

“Every baseball fan in South Carolina is going to get what they wanted,” said USC first baseman Christian Walker, who hit his team-leading 11th home run against Manhattan Friday  night. “They’re a good team, and they want to win and take us down.”

South Carolina (41-17) won two of three meetings with Clemson in the regular season, but those games pale in significance to Saturday’s game. Today’s winner will be one victory away from advancing to a Super Regional. Two victories in a Super Regional send a team to the College World Series. Today’s loser isn’t eliminated, but would have to beat the Manhattan-Coastal Carolina winner on Sunday, then beat today’s winner twice”

Staff ace Michael Roth (6-1, 2.58) from Riverside is scheduled to pitch for USC today. Clemson (34-26) is expected to counter with freshman right-hander Daniel Gossett (6-3, 4.50) from Byrnes or Dominic Leone (6-5, 5.49) the staff’s No. 1 starter who has been away from the team this week because of a death in his extended family.

The left-handed Roth burst on the national scene with a complete-game victory over the Tigers in the 2010 CWS in his first start. He has remained the cornerstone of the Gamecocks’ starting rotation ever since, even though he’s had eight no-decisions in 15 starts this season.

Tanner held Roth back from starting Friday’s regional opener against Manhattan because he said he felt Roth would be a better matchup for either Coastal Carolina or Clemson.

The strategy worked. Colby Holmes struck out nine and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

“You’ve to approach it that ‘hey, we won our first game; they won their first game. Let’s go play,’” Tanner said. “But who are we kidding? It’s big. It’s a rivalry situation, It’s more than just the second round of the NCAA. That’s big enough, but it’s Clemson.

“I’ve never been one to say ‘well, it’s just another game.’ No, it’s Clemson. We’re playing Clemson. It is what it is, and I’m sure they feel the same way. I think it’s great.”

Coach (Jack) Leggett (of Clemson) and I talked briefly after his game today,” Tanner said. “We  talked  a little bit last night.  We like this. We like to play. Whether I get beat tomorrow or he gets beat … the two of us, if someone said ‘let’s close the gates and play a seven-game set;’ Now, we would enjoy that. Now, we wouldn’t enjoy all of this,” he said, motioning to the media throng covering his press conference. “That’s what we’re all about. That’s the fabric of both of us.

“It’s great competition,” Tanner said. “There’s been a time or two along the way  when emotions got in the way (i.e. Bat-warmerGate and allegations of players being ‘soft,’) but at the end of the day it’s been a great rivalry; one of the best – if not THE best – in college baseball. Hopefully, whatever happens tomorrow, it’s a great game and a platform for college baseball.”

Leggett’s press conference came before the matchup was assured, so he was reticent to speak of a matchup that might not happen.

“I guess if it were to be against (Roth) you know you have your classic matchup again,” Leggett said. “He’s pitched well against us. We have to make some better adjustments than we have in the past and some some problems we’ve had in the past with him.

“We’ve had close game with him. If it comes to that point we have too figure out how to get it in our direction.”

Clemson figures to test the arm of USC reserve catcher Dante Rosenberg if it gets a chance. USC’s pitchers will be doing all they can to take pressure off Rosenberg.

“We’re just going to approach it like we have every game this year,” said Gamecocks senior right-fielder Adam Matthews, who had two hits and three RBIs against Manhattan.”Hopefully we can put up some good at-bats early, get on the board and just play good baseball.”

South Carolina is 4-3 all-time against Clemson in NCAA tournament baseball games. All four Gamcocks victories came in Omaha.

Watch more of Tanner’s comments about the matchup with Clemson and Roth’s role here.