Rogers: Schmidt, Gamecocks Impose WillColumns
COLUMBIA, S.C. — If first impressions earned you a season grade, righthander Clarke Schmidt and South Carolina would earn exemplary marks across the board for their performance in an 8-1 win over Clemson.
There was much anticipation about the Gamecocks coming into the series opener. They had started the season an unblemished 9-0, but those results were against not-so-great competition. Clemson might not be where coach Monte Lee would like it to be at this stage, but the Tigers were the first true test for the Gamecocks, and Chad Holbrook’s Gamecocks exorcised some demons from last season.
If you remember, the Gamecocks had some potential last season, but were a club that routinely broke down in big situations, and just couldn’t get the big performances when they needed it most.
This year’s Gamecocks looked nothing like the 2015 version in the series opener against the Tigers, and it was never more evident than in the first inning. After Clemson got the first two hitters of the game on base with a hit-by-pitch and a single, Schmidt, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound, sophomore already had his back against the wall.
What’d he do? He finished out the inning with three-straight strikeouts, two of them on beautiful sliders, while the third, a strikeout of Clemson freshman elite talent Seth Beer, was a smoking 95 mph fastball that Beer simply couldn’t catch up to.
For Schmidt to do that in that particular situation was telling about the 2016 Gamecocks, and it set the tone for the rest of the night.
“You just had to put [the first two hitters] behind you, especially with the way the crowd was into it,” Schmidt said. “Early on, the play was to really work the fastball in and out. When you have an aggressive team like that that loves hitting the fastball, you have to work ahead. I was able to do that, along with my slider and changeup.”
The Tigers had their chances against Schmidt, but every time they threatened, the talented righty had something in store, finishing the night with a career-high nine strikeouts, along with a career-high eight innings. He also allowed just five hits and didn’t walk a batter, though did finish the game with three hit-by-pitches, a mild blemish on an otherwise terrific showing.
“Clarke was excellent tonight. I think the big thing he was able to do was keep his fastball down in the one and induce some ground balls,” Clemson coach Monte Lee said. “He had a heavy sinking fastball and some weak grounders kind of allowed him to get out of jams. He was very aggressive against our hitters, and you really have to give him credit.”
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