South Carolina gets dominant pitching, stellar defense to beat Clemson

South Carolina gets dominant pitching, stellar defense to beat Clemson

**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**

South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook couldn't have scripted this one any better. Or not much better.  

In Game 1 of a three-game series against rival Clemson, Holbrook got a five-hit shutout from his vaunted pitching staff, nearly flawless defense and a big two-out error from the Tigers to win 2-0. It was South Carolina's first shutout against Clemson since an 8-0 win in 2013. 

Starter Clarke Schmidt struggled but gave up just four hits before turning the game over to his bullpen. Josh Reagan pitched out of a jam in the sixth and gave up just one hit in the seventh and eighth before turning the ball over to closer Tyler Johnson. 

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Johnson gave up a one-out walk in the ninth but got Jordan Green to ground out and got a stellar play from center field TJ Hopkins to for the third out. Reed Rohlman hit a line drive to left-center with two out, but Hopkins made a diving grab to end the game. 

While the Gamecocks were fortunate to get out of the ninth, they were even more fortunate to score two runs, which crossed the plate when Clemson's K.J. Bryant dropped a fly ball in right field. 

"A lot of times in college baseball, it's not who wins the game but who makes a mistake," Holbrook said. "We were fortunate to capitalize on a mistake tonight. Like coach Spurrier used to say, the good Lord smiled on the Gamecocks tonight, and that's what happened." 

The Gamecocks scratched out just three hits on a cold, windy night and in front of a raucous Clemson crowd, but it was all they needed. 

They took advantage of two Clemson errors to break through in the sixth. Shortstop Logan Davidson booted a ground ball by Hopkins to put the leadoff man on. Jonah Bride bunted Hopkins to second, and Matt Williams got him to third with a base hit that extended his hitting streak to eight games. 

After Alex Destino struck out, Madison Stokes poked a short fly ball to right that Bryant dropped as he came racing in from the outfield. Hopkins scored easily from third and Williams hustled home from first for a 2-0 lead. 

With Clemson left-hander Charlie Barnes stifling Gamecock hitters, that was the play of the game. Holbrook had his runners moving on the pitch, hoping to steal a run, but both scored on the blunder. 

"I knew it was going to be a tough play for him," Stokes said. "I knew there was a chance … I knew there was chance for him to catch it but also drop it just because of the spin of the ball. He was in full sprint so I knew it was going to be a tough play." 

"We were just trying to string some things together and put some pressure on them," Williams said.  "We were fortunate enough to put a couple of runners on and the pressure, I guess … We got a fortunate bounce and were able to score to. I was just happy that ball fell."

South Carolina's pitching did the rest. 

Schmidt struggled all night, issuing a career-high seven walks, but pitched out of jam after jam. He struck out five and got some big ground balls. He was aided by three unassisted double plays by Stokes at shortstop. 

That was all South Carolina needed on a night when Clemson managed just five hits against one of the top pitching staffs in the country. 

Clemson threatened in the sixth when Robert Jolly doubled off the top of the wall in left with two out. But Reagan relieved Schmidt and got a weak ground ball to end the inning. Bride, Stokes and Williams were stellar in the infield and Hopkins' play at the end was indicative of a Gamecock defense that backed the strong pitching. 

"When you have them making plays like that in high-pressure situations, it takes a load off your shoulders, especially when I'm not throwing strikes and doing my job as well as I could be doing," Schmidt said. "I've got to thank them and tip my cap. I'll have to buy them a meal or something."

South Carolina contained Seth Beer, the 2016 national player of the year. Beer reached on an error in the first and walked in the third, but Schmidt got him to hit into a double play in the fifth and Reagan got him to line out weakly to third in the seventh.  

Though he didn't have his best stuff, Schmidt did enough to keep Clemson off the board and turn the game over to his bullpen. 

"He's so competitive and he's not going to back down," Stokes said of Schmidt. "We all look up to him because of his passion for the game and his heart. He gives it everything he's got whether he's got his stuff or not."

"As long as I can put some zeroes on the board and come away with a win, I'm happy," Schmidt said. 

Despite the win, Holbrook was not entirely happy with his team, which managed just three hits and failed to score twice with runners in scoring position. 

"I'm a tad disappointed in my team because I think we can play better and compete better in the batter's box. We are a better hitting team than we showed tonight," he said. "We can't keep relying on our pitching and defense. We need to help them out a little bit.

"We will have to play much better the rest of the weekend if we want to win another game." 

The two teams meet again Saturday at 1 p.m. at Fluor Field in Greenville.