Clemson edges South Carolina to clinch baseball rivalry series

The weather was warm.

But South Carolina baseball went cold.

The No. 19 Gamecocks had scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity but couldn’t convert, clearing the way for No. 10 Clemson to win 5-4 and clinch a rivalry series win Sunday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

After a solo home run by USC’s Ethan Petry made it 5-4 Clemson in the top of the ninth inning, Tigers pitcher Austin Gordon got the final out against South Carolina’s Talmadge LeCroy with a runner on base to clinch the win.

Riding the high of their walk-off win over USC on Saturday at Segra Park in Columbia, Clemson (9-1) stayed hot at home and used two late home runs and a solid hodgepodge of pitching to clinch its first Palmetto Series win since 2022.

Third baseman Nolan Nawrocki had the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, and second baseman Blake Wright added a solo shot to put Clemson up 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth.

If South Carolina (8-3) wants to avoid getting swept by Clemson for the second time in three seasons, the Gamecocks must win the final game of the series at Founders Park. That game, scheduled for Friday, was rained out and postponed until a later mid-week date this season, which remains TBA.

It’s the first Palmetto Series win for Clemson coach Erik Bakich, who’s in his second year, and comes after USC and coach Mark Kingston won the 2023 series, 2-1.

Game recap

After Saturday’s 12-inning, nearly four-hour marathon, USC got the scoring started early Sunday. Talented junior catcher Messina, a preseason All-SEC First Team pick, was 0-6 against Clemson in Game 1 but smashed a two-run home run to center field off Aidan Knaak on the fourth-at bat of the game . It was his eighth of the young season and put USC up 2-0.

Clemson immediately responded in the bottom of the first on left field Will Taylor’s solo home run to left field off USC starter Dylan Eskew, which made it 2-1.

From there, Knaak (Clemson’s usual Sunday starter) and Eskew (USC’s usual Saturday starter) settled in on a sunny afternoon. There were no runs in the second inning, and the only score of the third inning came on a Dylan Brewer RBI to put USC up 3-1.

Eskew initially kept Clemson at bay, but the Gamecocks pulled their No. 2 pitcher after 3.2 innings after the Tigers scored two runs to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning and put two more runners on base.

As foreshadowed by Kingston, usual Sunday pitcher Roman Kimball was next up for the Gamecocks and got the final out that USC needed to strand two Clemson runners on base and prevent further disaster in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Knaak put together a decent five innings of four-hit ball for Clemson, with three earned runs and five strikeouts, before Bakich tapped true freshman Drew Titsworth to replace him in a 3-3 game at the top of the sixth inning.

Titsworth pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, and Tigers third baseman Nolan Nawrocki hit a solo home run to left field off Kimball to give Clemson its first lead of the game, 4-3, in the bottom of the sixth. And Nick Clayton, another Tigers reliever, finished off the seventh with two outs.

USC entered the top of the eighth inning without a single hit since the fourth but worked itself into a great scoring opportunity, chasing Clayton after placing runners on first and second. But Tippett couldn’t reverse the cold streak and popped up to third with two runners on base.

Gordon’s final strikeout in the ninth sealed Clemson’s win.