The two-time defending national champion Gamecocks (43-17) have won 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament games.
South Carolina will play host to the winner of the Charlottesville Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional next weekend. The Super Regional winner advances to the College World Series.
“It was another one of those great baseball games that we tend to have when we play Clemson,” said USC coach Ray Tanner. “That was about as good as we can play.”
Jordan Montgomery (5-1) pitched a steady 6 2/3 innings for the Gamecocks, leaving with a 4-2 lead, a runner on first and a one-ball count to Jason Stolz. The freshman left-hander allowed five hits, walked one and struck out six.
“It was good to get a lot of pitching time in front of family and friends,” said Montgomery, one of five South Carolinians in Sunday’s lineup. “It’s just good to perform and get starts. I’m just glad the coaches trust me.”
“Their kid did a pretty good job pitching against us today,” Leggett said. “He threw the ball on a downhill plane. He was using his changeup for a while, and his fastball and breaking ball had a little tail on it.”
Tyler Webb got out of the seventh and completed the victory, allowing the Tigers (35-28) a ninth-inning run before getting Brad Felder to fly out to end the game.
“Jordan Montgomery was outstanding,” Tanner said. “Tyler Webb was outstanding. We played good defense. We scored enough to hold up.”
Montgomery was one of four freshmen – and six first-year team members – in the USC lineup Sunday.
“I’m so proud of these guys effort,” Tanner said. “We’ve grown up a lot during the season.”
The Gamecocks, the designated visiting team, drove Clemson starter David Haselden from the game in the first inning.
Joey Pankake tripled to left to open the game. Evan Marzilli hit a fly ball to medium-deep left field and Pankake scored, just barely ahead of a tab from catcher Spencer Kieboom. Tigers coach Jack Leggett came out to question the call, but TV replay seemed to indicate Pankake’s hand touched home before the tag was placed on Pankake’s leg.
Christian Walker drew a walk. LB Dantzler hit a one-hopper down the line to Jon McGibbon at first base. McGibbon stepped on the bag for the second out of the inning but his throw to second for a possible double play skeeted off Walker’s left shoulder, allowing Walker to reach third.
Regional most valuable player Adam Matthews followed with a single to score Walker.
Matthews hit .385 with six RBI over the weekend. “It’s an honor (to be named regional MVP),” he said. “Playing out there and with this team and this coaching staff is a dream come true. I grew up a Carolina fan my whole life, so to have an opportunity to play here and be on the field versus in the stands has been a blessing.”
Connor Bright hit a fly ball off the left-field wall to score Matthews. That ended the day for Haselden, who had pitched four innings Friday in Clemson’s regional-opening victory over Coastal Carolina. Jonathan Meyer came on to get Tanner English to end the inning and pitched the remainder of the game.
Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer, expected to be a first-round selection in this week’s Major League Baseball draft, said the Tigers were not in a panic after falling behind.
“We had a whole nine innings of worth of baseball to play,” Shaffer said. “We hadn’t even stepped foot at the plate yet. It is a bit discouraging to be down 3-0 right away, but we didn’t expect anything to be easy today for sure.”
The bounces also didn’t go Clemson’s way in the bottom of the first. Two Tigers hit shots off Montgomery’s glove, but the balls caromed within range of USC infielders who made the throw to first for outs.
A walk to Jay Baum and a double by McGibbon put two runners in scoring position for Clemson with one out in the second. But Montgomery got Kieboom to pop up and froze Brad Felder on a called third strike.
The Gamecocks made the score 4-0 in the sixth. Tanner English bounced a double down the left-field line and took third when the throw to the infield got away. Chase Vergason singled to right to score English.
Clemson broke through against Montgomery in the sixth. Steve Wilkerson dumped a one-out single to left field and scored on Thomas Brittle’s double into the right-field corner. Richie Shaffer followed with a bad-hop single off Pankake’s shoulder at shortstop to put runners. Phil Pohl hit a bleeder to third base and the Gamecocks gladly exchanged a run for the second out of the inning.
“We knew they were going to come back at us, which was to be expected,” Tanner said. “I can’t say enough about Coach Leggett and his team and how talented and good they are.”
Clemson got its final run in the ninth on singles by Baum and Kieboom before Felder flied out to end the game.
Meyer pitched well for Clemson, allowing only the sixth-inning run in his 8 1/3 innings of relief.
“It’s always tough in front of a lot of people, down 3-0 and the crowd’s in it,” Meyer said. “I’ve done it before this season. I’ve come in early and stepped up that time, so I felt I could do it this time.”
“Obviously, a tough loss for us,” said Leggett, whose team beat Coastal Carolina, 5-3, earlier Sunday to stay alive. “I’m proud of our players. We played hard all day long.”
ALL COLUMBIA REGIONAL TEAM
C – Spencer Kieboom, Clemson; 1B – Rich Witten, Coastal Carolina; 2B – Chase Vergason, South Carolina; 3B – LB Dantzler, South Carolina; SS – Joey Pankake, South Carolina; OF – Brad Felder, Clemson; Adam Matthews, South Carolina; Jacob May, Coastal Carolina; DH/Util – Phil Pohl, Clemson; P – Colby Holmes, South Carolina; Jordan Montgomery, South Carolina. MVP – Matthews.