For the first time since 1999, the South Carolina baseball team dropped all three games this weekend and was swept by in-state rival Clemson.
Despite receiving a strong outing from sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Sanders, South Carolina's bullpen faltered in the late innings to give Clemson a 3-2 win.
After senior first baseman Josiah Sightler put the Gamecocks in front with a solo home run in the sixth inning, the bullpen couldn't replicate what Sanders did on the mound.
In seven innings of work, Sanders allowed one run on six hits and struck out a career-high 14 batters.
"It was really cool to see Founders Park amped up like that and it just made me want to do good," Sanders said. "We got more chances — and we will prove that we can win games and finish games — but today was a good test and we'll be better."
In the eighth inning, senior right-hander Wesley Sweatt surrendered a solo home run to sophomore catcher Jonathan French to tie the game at two.
An inning later, with two runners on, junior first baseman Bryar Hawkins gave the Tigers the lead with an RBI single off fifth-year left-handed pitcher John Gilreath.
After the game, head coach Mark Kingston explained his decision to intentionally walk sophomore designated hitter Cooper Ingle and pitch to Hawkins.
"I thought Gilreath was really good," Kingston said. "He had to get out of a jam there and Ingle was clearly (Clemson's) best pure hitter — the stats make that very obvious — it's a move we made a few times tonight and we did it that inning. It was the right move. You don't let a team's best hitter beat you and so it just didn't work out."
South Carolina did not have a great night at the plate against Clemson pitching, only registering four hits. With runners in scoring position, the team was hitless as it finished 0-for-10.
South Carolina struggled both offensively and defensively in its 10-2 loss to the Tigers at Segra Park Saturday night.
The Gamecocks got on the board first after capitalizing on mistakes from the Clemson defense. Fifth-year left fielder Brandt Belk brought in the first run as Hawkins muffed a throw to second base, allowing Sightler to reach first.
Pitching also struggled throughout the game, allowing 10 runs on 10 hits between five different pitchers. South Carolina gave the Tigers opportunities to score with six wild pitches and nine walks on the day.
Junior right-hander Noah Hall got his first start on the mound as a Gamecock and held his own for the first two innings, striking out three and not allowing any runs. Despite a solid start, Hall earned his first loss after loading the bases in the fourth inning, putting the Tigers in a position to blow the game wide open.
All three of those runs came into to score after redshirt freshman right-hander Cade Austin came in for relief of Hall.
Clemson brought in one more run after a throwing error from fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster, giving the Tigers a 4-1 lead midway through the game.
Defensive errors plagued the Gamecocks all day with seven errors on pitching and three fielding errors.
South Carolina was unable to answer on offense as it was only able to score one more run on a single from senior third basemen Kevin Madden that would bring Eyster in to score.
The Tigers took advantage of South Carolina's pitching again in the seventh as the team scored four more runs, two of which were scored on walks while the bases were loaded.
Freshman shortstop Michael Braswell continued to produce at the plate for South Carolina, going 2-for-4 with only one strikeout, a bright spot for the Gamecock offense.
On Sunday, Gilreath started on the mound for the Gamecocks and got the team moving in a positive direction early on.
Gilreath had three strikeouts, no runs earned and two hits during the three innings he pitched.
“We thought he gave us our best chance to get off on a good start and he did that,” Kingston said. “He gave us exactly what we asked.”
The defense was hot for both teams early in the game. Freshman Carson Hornung got the Gamecocks out of a tough bases-loaded position in the bottom of the second inning. The Gamecocks also went three up three down in the bottom of the third inning.
The game remained scoreless until late in the fourth inning when Aidan Hunter came in to pitch for the Gamecocks. The Tigers earned three runs in the fourth inning, gaining the momentum the team needed to win.
A single to center field by Junior Braylen Wimmer in the top of the fifth sent Belk home, scoring the Gamecocks' first run and only of that inning.
Sightler scored the second run for the Gamecocks in the top of the sixth inning. The Gamecocks consistently struggled with leaving players on base throughout the weekend.
Freshman Matthew Becker also performed well on the mound today for the Gamecocks. Becker came in at the top of the 7th inning and pitched three strikeouts with no hits and no runs earned.
The crowd was vocal throughout the game tonight. “I felt like I was at a college football game.” Braswell said, “the environment ... was electric.”
The Tiger’s win completed Clemson's weekend sweep of the Gamecocks for the first time since 1999 with record attendance (6,636 people) at the Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Before taking on top-ranked Texas this upcoming weekend, the Gamecocks will play Xavier on Tuesday, March 8 at Founders Park. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.