CLEMSON, S.C. — Steve Wilkerson had let too many chances go by earlier Sunday to let the biggest opportunity of Clemson’s season so far slip away in the ninth inning.
The sophomore second baseman stranded six runners as he made the final out in the second, fifth and seventh innings. But he lined a solid shot to center to score Jon McGibbon with the winning run to give the Tigers a 6-5 victory and avoid a sweep to rival and two-time defending champion South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (9-1) lost for the first time this year and ended a 19-game winning streak dating back to last year’s NCAA Tournament and College World Series.
Wilkerson didn’t spend much time worrying about the runners he failed to bring in as he came to the plate in the ninth.
“I just tried to stay focused and find a good pitch to hit,” he said.
Wilkerson’s RBI single followed McGibbon’s leadoff hit in the ninth. McGibbon was sacrificed to second by Thomas Brittle, setting up Wilkerson’s game-winner.
The Tigers (5-4) looked ready to collapse in the second inning as South Carolina led 4-0, thanks in part to two Clemson errors and a three-run homer by freshman Grayson Greiner.
There was no panic in Clemson dugout, despite the worry of most of the 6,039 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium disappointed by South Carolina winning 3-2 in 11 innings Friday night in Charleston and 9-6 in Columbia on Saturday.
Clemson rallied for a run in the second on Brittle’s sacrifice fly and two in the third on Richie Shaffer’s homer and Joe Costigan’s run-scoring single to make it 4-3.
After Greiner’s second homer, a solo shot to left in the sixth, the Tigers completed the comeback on Phil Pohl’s two-run homer in the eighth inning.
“Hopefully, we can win a ballgame where we get out early and keep a lead,” said Pohl. “But a win’s a win, especially against those guys. They’re a great ballclub and it’s big to get a win against them.”
McGibbon had a game-saving stop in the top of the eighth when he snared Chase Vergason’s hard shot to first to begin a double play.
McGibbon’s was off in the ninth as soon as Wilkerson struck the ball off Gamecocks closer Forrest Koumas
The Tigers still lost the season series for the fourth time in six years. But they felt they could build on this success.
“We just kept our poise and kept battling back,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said.