Tigers avoid sweep, hand Gamecocks first loss of year

No. 2-ranked South Carolina built up a 5-3 lead but No. 15 Clemson rallied in the final two innings on the back of a two-run homer from Phil Pohl and a RBI single in the bottom of the ninth by Steve Wilkerson to defeat the Gamecocks 6-5 on Sunday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Despite the loss, South Carolina takes the season series with the Tigers 2-1 after winning on Friday and Saturday and the Gamecocks have defeated the Tigers in 16 of the last 23 contests as well. South Carolina is now 9-1 on the year with Clemson 5-4 for the season.

Grayson Greiner had a pair of home runs as well as four RBI and Adam Matthews was 2-for-4 with a RBI as well as Carolina took a two-run advantage into the top of the eighth inning. The Gamecocks were looking for more as Matthews singled with one out and advanced on a failed pickoff by Clemson reliever Scott Firth. After Greiner walked on four pitches to give Carolina runners on the corners, Chase Vergason roped a hard grounder that was stabbed by Clemson’s Jon McGibbon at first base, and he proceeded to start a 3-6-3 double play that ended the Gamecock threat. The Tigers then made their move in the bottom of the eighth with a leadoff walk to Richie Shaffer. That set the stage for Pohl, who knocked a 1-0 pitch from Gamecock reliever Forrest Koumas over the left-centerfield wall to tie the game at 5-5. Carolina put a couple of runners on base in the top of the ninth on Evan Marzilli’s leadoff single and an error by Clemson second baseman Steve Wilkerson. Firth escaped further damage though with a strikeout against LB Dantzler and a ground out by Kyle Martin. McGibbon opened the ninth with a base hit up the middle and after a sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position, he scored on Steve Wilkerson’s RBI base hit into left-center giving the Tigers a 6-5 victory.

Koumas suffered the loss and is now 1-1 on the year. He allowed three runs on three hits with one strikeout and one walk in 1.1 innings. Firth earned the victory and is 1-0 for the season. He allowed one run on three hits in four innings with four strikeouts and two walks.

South Carolina capitalized on a pair of Tiger errors to take a 4-0 lead in the top of the second inning. LB Dantzler led off with a fly ball to left field that was dropped by Garret Boulware putting Dantzler on second base. With one out, he would advance to third on a throwing error by Richie Shaffer that allowed Joey Pankake to reach base and into scoring position. Matthews would drive in the first run of the game with a RBI single to left field over the head of Shaffer. That was followed by a three-run homer from Greiner, his first career round tripper in a Gamecock uniform. Greiner attacked the first pitch he saw from Pohle giving the Gamecocks a four-run lead.

Clemson would get an unearned run in the bottom of the second inning. Joe Costigan walked with one out, Jason Stolz singled and Jon McGibbon reached base on a muffed throw by Holmes over at first base. Thomas Brittle drove in Costigan with a sacrifice fly to left field cutting Carolina’s lead to 4-1.

Clemson would get within a run in the third inning. Shaffer opened the frame with a solo home run to left field, his fourth homer of the season. Costigan added a RBI single as well. The Tigers would load the bases for the second time against Holmes but he would escape further damage with a line out against Brittle to keep the Gamecocks ahead 4-3.

South Carolina extended the lead to 5-3 in the sixth inning on Greiner’s second homer of the day. On Firth’s 2-0 pitch, Greiner roped his second blast of the day to left-center. Greiner is the first Gamecock to hit two homers in a game this year. The last Gamecock player to hit two homers in a game was Steven Neff on May 11 in a 7-1 win over Arkansas.

Both team’s offense worked each starting pitcher early in the game. Holmes went 3.2 innings and allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits with four strikeouts and three walks. Kevin Pohle went five innings and allowed four runs, all unearned, on six hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

Carolina left-hander Tyler Webb and right-hander Ethan Carter both were solid out of the bullpen in the middle innings. Webb hurled two scoreless with just one hit allowed while Carter went 1.1 scoreless with one hit allowed as well.

South Carolina senior outfielder Adam Matthews earned the Tom Price Award as MVP of the series for South Carolina. Matthews hit .417 (5-for-12) in the three games vs. the Tigers with four runs and four RBI. Richie Shaffer earned the Bob Bradley Award as MVP of the series for Clemson. Both Price and Bradley served as Baseball SIDs at the respective schools for decades and were important in the promotion of collegiate baseball across the state and in the country. Bradley passed away in 2000, while Price passed away in 2008.

Sunday’s loss snapped a 19-game winning streak for the Gamecocks that dated back to the 2011 season.

Matthews, Greiner and Vergason each had two hits apiece to lead the Gamecocks at the plate. McGibbon went 3-for-5 to lead the Tigers at the plate. Pohl, Shaffer, Stolz and Wilkerson had two hits apiece as well for Clemson.

South Carolina returns to action on Wednesday night hosting UNC Asheville at Carolina Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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