The Tigers were a strike away from a home victory when the Gamecocks got two-out, two-run hits from shortstop Marcus Mooney and center fielder Tanner English in the ninth to rally for a 5-3 victory Sunday.
“We’re not going to give up until that last out is called,” said English, who drove in the winning runs with a double near the left field line. “We’re never going to have any doubts. Go up there, play the game one pitch at a time and see what happens.”
The rally stunned most of the 6,016 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium already steamed that Clemson gave up a 6-1 lead Friday to fall 9-6 in Columbia, then got beat 10-2 in Greenville on Saturday.
It’s South Carolina’s 13th victory in the past 16 meetings with Clemson (6-4) and its second season sweep in the past seven seasons.
“It’s kind of like you’re a little kid again and you put a smile on your face,” English said.
Clemson had been in control throughout the game. East Tennessee transfer Jake Long gave the Tigers 61/3 innings of strong work as a starting pitcher, and the Tigers mostly stayed away from miscues after combining for six errors in the first two games.
Reliever Clate Schmidt held down South Carolina (10-0) for more than two innings and was a strike away from ending things when pinch hitter Brison Celek singled to load the bases.
That’s when Mooney singled to center. Kyle Martin scored easily, but center fielder Tyler Slaton’s throw was in ahead of Gamecocks catcher Grayson Greiner and easily would’ve been the game-ending out except that Clemson catcher Chris Okey couldn’t come up with the ball.
A rattled Schmidt couldn’t get English, whose strong liner rolled into the left field corner for the back-breaking runs scored by pinch runner Zack Madden and Mooney.
Gamecocks reliever Cody Mincey (2-0) worked two innings, including a perfect ninth for the victory.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett said Schmidt (1-2) was pitching well and did not want to take him out.
“They just got to him a little bit and unfortunately for us, they pieced together some hits,” he said.
Slaton said it will be important for the Tigers not to let what happened this weekend cloud the rest of their season.
“This is a tough one to swallow,” he said.
“We could’ve very easily gotten two (wins) out of this weekend. But we didn’t and now we’ve just got move on.”
For much of the game, it looked like Clemson’s Long and South Carolina’s Wil Crowe would dominate this one on the mound.
Crowe, who hadn’t given up a run his first two college starts, matched Long’s performance nearly pitch for pitch and the game was tied at 1-all heading into the sixth. Clemson picked up runs in the sixth on Okey’s double-play ball and in the seventh on Slaton’s RBI single to post Schmidt with a 3-1 lead.
Schmidt was on fire until midway through the ninth. He induced an inning-ending double play in the seventh to end a Gamecocks threat, then struck out four of the next six batters he faced before South Carolina’s rally.
Kyle Martin got things started with a one-out single before Greiner started a string of two-out hits by Celek, Mooney and English.
“This is amazing,” said Mooney, whose brother Peter was a shortstop on South Carolina’s 2011 national championship squad. “I wasn’t expecting that much, but this is exciting.”