Seth Beer did what he seemingly always does for Clemson when he faces South Carolina. Matt Williams did what he has rarely gotten an opportunity to do, but his home run helped the Gamecocks to a 3-2 win over the archrival Tigers in the series-opener on Friday night at Founders Park.
Beer gave the Tigers (8-1) a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning belting a two-run home run off of South Carolina starting pitcher Adam Hill, who was magnificent in a no-decision. Beer has delivered backbreaking hits against the Gamecocks (7-3) for his entire career but when Williams, a fifth-year senior, pinch hit in the eighth inning, his solo shot erased what Beer had done and spurred a comeback victory, the first of the season for his team when trailing after six innings.
South Carolina walked away with a win in the bottom of the ninth when TJ Hopkins hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring home pinch runner Danny Blair from third base.
Hopkins was mobbed in shallow right field as the Gamecocks handed the Tigers their first loss of the season.
“It shows what a great program guy he is,” Kingston said of Matt Williams, who only had tw0 at-bats this season before his pinch-hit home run.
“He could have easily gone into the tank or felt sorry for himself, but I don’t think that’s how he’s made. He’s trying to help us win when he’s not starting. I see him talking to his teammates in terms of little things they might be able to look at. It’s amazing how the game rewards guys like that. For him to get that hit in that situation, I think that’s a guy doing the right things and getting rewarded for it.”
The series-opener, as expected, was a pitchers duel between Hill and Clemson starting pitcher Jacob Hennessy. The two combined to allow three runs, only two of them earned, over 12 innings with four walks and 16 strikeouts.
Most of those numbers went to Hill though, who pitched seven innings allowing two runs on two hits. He walked two, but struck out 14 in his 110-pitch performance.
“The bottom line was we didn’t get too many opportunities to score,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “We needed to pitch and defend well. We didn’t play our best baseball game. We made some mistakes, but we were still in the game. I want to give our guys some credit for competing as hard as they could against a starter who is as good as it gets, but they came out on top. They deserve a lot of credit.”
The only blemish on Hill’s line was the two-run home run to Beer, who erased a one-run deficit gifted by the Tigers on a dropped pop fly by Grayson Byrd with two outs in the fifth inning.
“There was no panic in the dugout,” Kingston said after Beer’s home run. “There was no feeling sorry for ourselves. It was just a matter of figuring out how we could get back on the board, tie the game and eventually win the game. As a team, we didn’t panic and stayed the course.”
Leading off the eighth inning, Williams got hold of an elevated fastball from relief pitcher Owen Griffith and drove it over South Carolina’s bullpen in left field. The home run tied the game, reenergized Founders Park and put the momentum back in the first base dugout.
“I didn’t really see it,” Williams said. “After I hit it, I didn’t know what was going on. I rounded first, couldn’t really breathe until about five minutes after I got into the dugout. It was fun.”
Williams only had two at-bats on the season before the pinch-hit opportunity, which Kingston said was given to him because the numbers indicate that left-handed hitters perform better against Griffith. Williams, who had 129 at-bats last year, has sat and watched most of the season as three other players have started at first base ahead of him.
“Obviously I don’t make the lineup,” Williams said. “Everyone wants to play, but when you get your shot, go at it and give it your all. In the moment, you have to stay calm, breathe and stay within yourself until you get something you can handle. Everybody is hungry to play and that’s how it should be.”
Junior Eddy Demurias picked up the victory after throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts. Demurias entered with two runners on base in the eighth inning but proceeded to register a strikeout and get a ground ball to set the stage for the ninth inning.
Senior Jonah Bride worked a leadoff walk and he found his way to third base when relief pitcher Ryley Gilliam’s pickoff attempt got past first baseman Chris Williams. After Jacob Olson struck out, Hopkins lifted a breaking ball to left field plenty deep enough to score a game-winning run.
“Me growing up in South Carolina and knowing about the rivalry, my parents and grandparents are big South Carolina fans, I know that made them happy,” Hopkins said. “Going in there with a lot of people looking at me to do a job is really comforting.”
Junior LT Tolbert was the only player in the game who had multiple hits going 2-for-4. Clemson’s two hits were a season-low for the team, which came into the game with a .282 average as a team and 59 total runs scored in eight games.
This is the third straight season that the Gamecocks have won the series-opener. Each of the last two years, Clemson has come back to win the series.
South Carolina will look to win its first season series against the Tigers since 2014 on Saturday at Fluor Field in Greenville. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. There is no television or streaming coverage of the game.
WHAT A MOMENT! WHAT A WIN! pic.twitter.com/gylSz8FFCl— Gamecock Baseball (@GamecockBasebll) March 3, 2018
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