**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth**
South Carolina was one out and one strike away from beating Clemson Sunday and winning the best-of-three series for the first time in three years.
But Clemson had Seth Beer, the 2016 national player of the year. And that's all it needed to hang on, push the game to extra innings and pull out a dramatic series win over its arch rival.
The Gamecocks, who lost to Clemson 8-7 Saturday in Greenville, were one strike away from winning the series when Beer hit a dramatic home run to tie the game in the ninth.
Beer then played a pivotal role in the winning run when South Carolina tried to intentionally walk him in the 11th. With the go-ahead run on third, Gamecock reliever Tyler Haswell tossed a wild pitch, allowing the run to score. The Tigers added another run on a walk, a stolen base and a base hit for the 5-3 win.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Gamecocks, who won the first game in Clemson 2-0 on Friday night and carried a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning in Greenville on Saturday before Clemson rallied to win that game as well.
"Sometimes baseball can be cruel and sometimes it can be exhilarating. We are on the cruel end of it today," South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook said.
The Gamecocks carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth with left-handed closer Josh Reagan on the mound. Beer had walked three times and Reagan went to a 3-0 count before Beer hit a 3-2 pitch over the right-field fence for his second home run of the series.
"We both had our opportunities. But Seth Beer being Seth Beer, the best player in college baseball, gave us a chance," Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. "He gave us a chance to stay in the ball game down to our last strike and then hits a home run to tie it up. … We found a way to get it done."
Holbrook defended his decision to pitch to Beer in the ninth.
"He just threw an off-speed pitch, just to see if he would take a couple to get to 3-2," he explained. "You've got one swing, you're one strike away, you're going to take your chances. I'm not walking the winning run left on left. If he hits a home run, he ties it, he doesn't win it.
"He just left the pitch up a little bit and a great player put a great swing on it."
With South Carolina's bullpen depleted, Clemson's Logan Davidson walked to lead off the 11th and stole second. Reed Rohlman bunted him to third and he scored on Haswell's wild pitch while trying to intentionally walk Beer.
Pinch runner K.J. Bryant then stole second and scored on Chase Pinder's single to give Clemson a 5-3 lead. South Carolina went down in order in the bottom of the 11th.
"It's a tough loss, because we felt like we had control of the game and we were one pitch away, but that's the beauty of baseball," Holbrook said. "You can't run out the clock and you have to get that 27th out. Today we got 26."
South Carolina had a golden opportunity to win it in the ninth when Matt Williams led off with a single and Jacob Olson was hit by a pitch, giving the Gamecocks two runners on base with no outs.
But Holbrook elected to pinch hit for Alex Destino, the team's leading RBI man, in an effort to advance the runners. Justin Row popped up his bunt attempt and Clemson catcher Chris Williams made a diving catch for the first out of the inning. Jonah Bride then grounded out to first, moving the runners to second and third. After LT Tolbert was walked intentionally, Madison Stokes struck out with the bases loaded.
"I just wanted to stay out of the double play and Alex hits a lot of ground balls and he's not a good bunter," Holbrook said. "I felt like if we got the runner to third base with less than two outs we were going to win the game, and Justin Row is our best bunter, but he just didn't get it down."
Haswell, a junior right-hander, was the sixth of seven pitchers South Carolina used. Brandon Murray relieved Reagan in the 11th, followed by Haswell, who was trying to intentionally walk Beer when his pitch got away.
"We had a kid out there who hadn't been out there in that situation," Holbrook said. "That's OK. It's difficult. I feel terrible for Tyler but he hasn't been out there before in that situation and obviously he wasn't very comfortable."
The Tigers threatened in the top of the 10th but Bride made a back-handed grab at third and turned a nifty double play to help South Carolina get out of the inning.
South Carolina threatened in the bottom of the 10th, getting two walks to put two runners on but Williams hit into a double play to end the inning.
Adam Hill started on the mound for the Gamecocks and pitched well but ran out of steam due to a high pitch count. He gave up just five hits and struck out seven but had three walks on 104 pitches. Colie Bowers, Reed Scott and Reagan got South Carolina to the ninth and one out from victory until Beer's fateful blow.
South Carolina got on the board early when Hopkins singled and scored on a wild pitch. Clemson tied it in the fourth on a solo home run by Andrew Cox.
The Gamecocks went ahead in the sixth when Stokes reached on an infield hit and scored from first on a double to left by Chris Cullen.
Clemson came right back to tie it again in the seventh when Rohlman reached on an error by Bride at third and scored on Chase Pinder's single.
South Carolina took the lead again in the bottom of the seventh when Hopkins hit a shot off the right center field fence for a leadoff triple and scored on a double to left by Williams.
With Reagan, who had 11 saves last season, on the mound, South Carolina was in position to win the game and take the series. To lose it on Beer's home run and a wild pitch was devastating to a team that fell to 7-5 on the year.
"It's definitely hard and I am a little bit overwhelmed with everything that has happened," said Hopkins, who was named South Carolina's MVP for the series. "We were literally a strike away and that's really hard to think about. That's really going to sting but you've got to get over it and you've got to get to the next game."
"I have a great group of kids and they are hurting right now, but they will bounce back and represent this uniform the right way," Holbrook said.