Newcomers Sean Sullivan and Connor Bright had RBI singles to break a 1-all tie in the 11th inning and center fielder Evan Marzilli saved the game with a lunging catch as the Gamecocks defeated rival Clemson 3-2 at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park on Friday night.
Forrest Koumas worked 2⅔ innings in relief of ace Michael Roth to get his first victory of the season. Former Greenbrier standout Nolan Belcher got the final out for his first save. Freshman reliever Daniel Gossett (0-1) took the loss.
Last year’s series was stirred up when Clemson coach Jack Leggett had umpires check the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. and accused the Gamecocks of heating up their bats. There was also plenty of taunting between the clubs. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner was angered by Leggett’s claims as the whole state followed along. The two coaches apologized after the series and hoped this year’s set would put the focus back on baseball.
And that’s what happened in front of near capacity crowd of 5,851 fans in the home of the Yankees’ Class-A affiliate Charleston RiverDogs that included movie star Bill Murray, a part owner of the minor league club.
“I’m really happy about that,” Tanner said. “This atmosphere. This is a big game.”
The past couple of seasons, most big games wind up as South Carolina victories.
Christian Walker started the Gamecocks’ 11th with a walk and was sacrificed to second. Pinch hitter Kyle Martin singled Walker to third and Sullivan, a junior transfer from Winthrop, singled through the hole at shortstop to break the tie. Bright, a freshman who entered as a defensive replacement, slapped a single to right as Patrick Harrington scored from second after colliding with catcher Spencer Kieboom for a 3-1 lead.
The Tigers weren’t done.
Richie Shaffer led off with a double to left and came around to score on an error by shortstop Joey Pankake. A throwing error by third baseman LB Dantzler set up Clemson with runners on the corners and two out.
Pinch hitter Jay Baum hit a sinking shot to left center that seemed to get knocked down by the swirling winds off the Ashley River. However, the speedy Marzilli slid under the ball as the Gamecocks (8-0) began celebrating their fifth win in the past six games with Clemson (4-3).
“I wasn’t going to let any ball drop out there,” Marzilli said.
Walker singled in South Carolina’s first run in the third inning. Clemson tied it in the seventh on Jason Stolz’s single into center. Marzilli nearly cut down that run, too, but Shaffer scored when the ball bounced off the glove of catcher Grayson Greiner.
The teams play today at the Gamecocks’ Carolina Stadium in Columbia before finishing the series Sunday at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium.