New format gets thumbs up from Palmetto State rivals

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COLUMBIA --- Outfielder Whit Merrifield loves the new format for South Carolina's three-game weekend series with Clemson because he is going to get to see the best the Tigers have to offer.

Rivals Clemson and South Carolina will play a weekend series instead of during the week.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Rivals Clemson and South Carolina will play a weekend series instead of during the week.

"We got our best guys going against their best guys," Merrifield said Thursday.

Gone for at least two seasons are the midweek games where coaches had to carefully juggle lineups with weekend conference series in mind. Instead, the Tigers (7-0) and Gamecocks (5-2) will play today at Clemson, Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville and Sunday at South Carolina.

"I like it. We get to go after it just like a regular weekend series," Tigers shortstop Brad Miller said.

The new format should also bring a winner to the series, ending splits like last year where each team won two games and no one claimed bragging rights.

"It's always a little sweeter when you get to knock off your in-state rival," Miller said.

The Tigers have yet to lose this year, with four of their seven games decided by three runs or less. Kyle Parker, Clemson's starting quarterback last fall, is leading the Tigers with a .464 average and four home runs.

Clemson will open the series with Casey Harman (2-0, 0.84 ERA). Will Lamb (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will start Saturday and Scott Weismann (1-0, 2.89 ERA) gets the ball Sunday.

South Carolina lost two of three in last weekend's series at East Carolina.

Scott Wingo is batting .462, while Jeffery Jones had three home runs. The Gamecocks plan to start Blake Cooper (2-0, 3.00 ERA) today, Sam Dyson (1-0, 2.35 ERA) On Saturday and freshman Tyler Webb on Sunday. Webb hasn't allowed a run in nearly nine innings this season.

South Carolina has won nine of the past 12 in the series, but Clemson won the final two games in 2009.

The new format came about after Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner and Tigers coach Jack Leggett acknowledged NCAA and conference scheduling guidelines made it difficult to fit in four games split between the rivals, who used to play three-game series at each school.

Tanner said the format is locked in for the next two seasons before the coaches will evaluate whether to make any changes.

"Our players like beating them. But they respect each other and get along well. They talk during the summer," Tanner said.

"Now that I've said that, there's going to be the most incredible bench-clearing brawl you've ever seen."

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