Clemson-South Carolina Features Fresh FacesColumns
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No college baseball rivalry has the anticipation and intensity of Clemson-South Carolina.
Last season, both teams returned several key pieces, therefore, both coaches knew what to expect to an extent. The two teams played a one-run affair in the opener, split the first two games and Clemson won the series finale 8-7.
This series will be different. Though it wouldn’t be surprising to see it decided on the third day, head coaches Monte Lee and Mark Kingston don’t have quite as much familiarity with the other team.
Why, you ask?
Clemson entered this season having to replace two of its top four hitters and two of three weekend starters with the departure of Jake Higginbotham and the season-ending injury to righthander Spencer Strider, who had a huge summer and fall and was expected to be a front-line starter for Lee’s club this season. The Tigers also lost hard-throwing reliever Ryley Gilliam from last year’s club.
South Carolina also has a much different look. The Gamecocks lost their top five hitters and 45 home runs from last year’s club. Also, the Gamecocks are without starting pitchers Cody Morris and Adam Hill, who are now in the professional ranks.
The similarities don’t stop there. In addition to each having some key cogs to replace this spring, the two teams are off to terrific starts. South Carolina has taken care of business at home the first two weekends, while Clemson has done the same, with a season-opening series win over South Alabama being the high-water mark.
With both clubs sitting at 7-1 entering the weekend, it’ll be interesting to see which team’s newcomers rise to the occasion.
“They’re definitely tougher to game plan against,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said about Clemson. “They look very, very similar to us. The batting averages, ERAs, K’s and defense are really similar. But at the end of the day, this weekend will be all about who makes the most good plays.”
“You know, the one thing that stands out to me about our team is the sheer balance. If you look at our statistics, we’ve got pretty good balance,” Clemson coach Monte Lee said. “We’ve got 10 guys who have hit a home run, so we’ve got some balance in the power department. We also have some guys who can run. We’ve stolen 22 bags so far, have 17 home runs and have scored 64 runs in eight games. I like where we are right now.”
Let’s look at the two teams.
Sharpe, Others, Give Clemson Stability
Clemson was excited about its weekend rotation when the New Year arrived. Junior righthander Spencer Strider was coming off a strong fall and was expected to have a solid January as a precursor to a terrific junior campaign. But a season-ending injury devastated him and seemed to send the Tigers scrambling in the short-term for another front-line option in the weekend rotation.
They’ve found that guy in freshman two-way talent Davis Sharpe.
Though he was hesitant to directly comp him to Louisville’s Brendan McKay, who was the National Player of the Year a few seasons ago, Lee can’t help but to see some parallels. Sharpe, a physical 6-foot-3, 210-pounder isn’t your typical freshman. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he loves playing the game the right way — both on the mound and at the plate.
Sharpe has provided a massive boost for this club through the first two and a half weeks, hitting .381 (second on the team) with three doubles, two home runs and five RBIs, while his numbers on the mound have been outstanding as well, tallying 19 strikeouts and just four walks, while having yet to allow a run in 11 innings.
“The No. 1 thing about Davis that stands out is that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. He knows he’s good and talented, but he goes out there and swings and pitches, and is always smiling. He plays this game like it’s a Little League game,” Lee said. “You look at his velocity, and it’s not overwhelming. He’ll sit 88-90 and bump 91-92, but the fastball really sinks when he’s pitching to his armside, and when he pitches to his gloveside, the fastball naturally cuts. He can throw the fastball and low-80s slider for strikes in and out of the zone, and the slider is a nice pitch because it has some slurve action to it. He can really dump the ball in there.
Several Gamecocks Stepping Up
South Carolina wasn’t much different than Clemson entering the season.
Sure, the Gamecocks were unranked in our preseason rankings. But, too, would have been Clemson had we known Spencer Strider would be out for the season with an injury.
Both teams have something to prove this weekend and beyond, and for the Gamecocks, it’s all about establishing consistency in the weekend rotation.
Sophomore righthander Carmen Mlodzinski showed big-time potential last season. He was electric at the SEC tournament and showed off his big arm in other instances. But he’s in the weekend rotation now and the Gamecocks need him to have a strong spring His results have been a mixed bag thus far, as he has a 4.32 ERA in 8.1 innings, along with eight walks and seven strikes. The stuff has been electric at times, sitting 91-94 mph with his fastball, while command has been an issue.