Tigers seek revenge in three-city series
The Palmetto State baseball rivalry has existed since 1899, but this weekend's series might be the biggest it's ever been.
The Gamecocks and Tigers meet tonight at Carolina Stadium for the first time since USC eliminated Clemson from the College World Series this summer en route to its first national championship. The game will begin a three-game, three-city series, with Saturday's middle game at Fluor Field in Greenville and Sunday's series finale at Clemson.
"I've been here for 15 years. (Clemson) coach (Jack) Leggett, this is 17 (years) for him. It's always been a big deal,"
USC coach Ray Tanner said. "Even when maybe both of our teams weren't as good as maybe right now we're both projected to be. It's always a big deal. It's exciting. It's great to be a part of it."
The first pitch of this year's series will be thrown by USC lefty Michael Roth, who has a great deal of personal responsibility for the heightened stakes around the rivalry. It was Roth who threw a complete game spot start against the Tigers in the team's first meeting in Omaha, Neb., lifting the Gamecocks to a 5-1 win. Now, the Greer native is not only an established starting pitcher — he's USC's ace at the moment.
"I've been really impressed with him," Tanner said. "I thought he would do a good job for us.
"We believed in the opportunity he was going to get and that he was going to take advantage of it. He's actually done a little bit better than I expected. His fastball's been better, his velocity. He's been able to get his breaking ball in there, use both sides of the plate."
Roth, who said he'll probably reflect on his performance in the College World Series prior to the first pitch and then "mentally separate" that outing and the one he'll have tonight, believes Clemson will be out for revenge, but the Gamecocks also have something to play for.
"I'm sure they have something that they feel like they have to prove," Roth said. "It's going to be a great series. We want to prove something, too."
Tanner said the excitement can get too overbearing, however.
"The emotional part usually backfires," Tanner said. "If you try to do more than you're capable of doing, especially in our sport, it'll tend to take you in the wrong direction."
This is the second year of the series format. Last season the Gamecocks lost the first game in Clemson and the last in Columbia but won the second in Greenville Tanner said he is in favor of the current setup.
"I thought it was outstanding, had a lot of merit in going to three different locations," Tanner said. "There are a lot of interests, a lot of positives in it for me. I've enjoyed it, and I think coach Leggett has as well."
Tyler Webb will start Saturday in Greenville for USC, while either Adam Westmoreland or Steven Neff will take the hill in Tigertown. Tanner said Thursday that Westmoreland is the probable starter, but it could change.