The Daily Gamecock

Preview: South Carolina, Clemson baseball prepare for 1st ranked opponent, facing off in Palmetto Series

The South Carolina and Clemson baseball teams are preparing for their first ranked competition of the season against one another. The in-state rivals will face off in the annual Palmetto Series Friday through Sunday.

The Palmetto Series, presented by the South Carolina Education Lottery this year, puts the Gamecocks and Tigers in competition across a variety of sports for the Palmetto Series trophy. The winner of baseball's weekend rivalry will earn points toward the trophy.

“It’s a big weekend,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for a lot of people — fans, coaches, players, everybody involved.”

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Senior first baseman Gavin Casas played in his first Palmetto Series last March after transferring from Vanderbilt ahead of the 2023 season. Casas drove in three runs off two homers in the final game to help secure the series win for South Carolina. He is looking forward to competing in the rivalry games over the weekend, he said.

“It runs deep, and we’re excited to start playing,” Casas said. “It should be a good series.”

South Carolina came out victorious in the 2023 Palmetto Series, but it was not a clean sweep. The Tigers took game one, and the Gamecocks bounced back to take game two and game three for the series win.

Kingston said he understood the weight of the rivalry within the South Carolina community following his sixth Palmetto Series last year. The teams respect the rivalry, he said.

“It’s big for our fans,” Kingston said. “I’m glad our fans are able to celebrate this.”

Clemson head coach Erik Bakich gave credit to South Carolina's offense and pitching staff after the third game of the series. The Tigers struggled to generate momentum against South Carolina, he said. 

“They were the better team today,” Bakich said. “We just need to find a way to be much more competitive than that. That’s the bottom line.”

The Tigers managed to go 18-2 in the final stretch of regular-season ACC competition in 2023. It walked away with the ACC Championship in May despite being last in the conference in early April.

Riddled with player injuries, the later half of the 2023 season was a tough finish for South Carolina. After sweeping the NCAA Regionals, the team's postseason was cut short after a loss to Florida in the NCAA Super Regionals.

Heading into this weekend, Clemson sits at No. 10 and South Carolina at No. 19. The teams hold almost identical 2024 records, with Clemson at 7-1 and South Carolina at 8-1.

Clemson kicked off the 2024 season in historic fashion, executing a pair of grand slams on opening night against Xavier. It was the first time the Tigers have hit two grand slams in the same game since 2010.

Graduate student outfielder Alden Mathes hit the first one in the bottom of the first inning, and redshirt freshman infielder Nolan Nawrocki hit the second in the bottom of the fourth. In the bottom of the third, redshirt freshman infielder Cooper Blauser put up his first collegiate hit with a solo shot out of the field.

The explosive Tiger offense finished the game with a 14-3 win.

South Carolina’s offense has been alive as well. The Gamecocks have won four games in run-rule fashion already. 

One of those games was the eighth no-hitter in school history on Feb. 18. The 14-0 victory against Miami-Ohio took the Gamecocks just seven innings to complete. 

South Carolina’s key players heading into the series include fifth-year outfielder Dylan Brewer, junior catcher Cole Messina, sophomore infielder Will Tippett and Casas at the plate. The four have driven in 10 runs a piece on the season, and Brewer is batting a team-leading .519 with 14 hits in 27 at-bats.

Clemson’s sophomore outfielder Cam Cannarella has 10 RBIs of his own. Close behind are Nawrocki with nine and senior infielder Blake Wright with eight.

As a team, Clemson has hit 17 home runs, two of which came off the Mathes and Nawrocki grand slams. South Carolina sits at 11 homers on the young season.

Junior pitcher Matthew Becker leads the Gamecocks with 10 strikeouts. Redshirt sophomore pitcher Roman Kimball, freshman pitcher Tyler Pitzer and junior pitcher Dylan Eskew follow Becker with nine each on the season.

Kimball, having recovered from Tommy John surgery, made his Gamecock debut in the no-hitter game, holding the starting position and going two innings deep. This weekend's series will be Kimball's first time facing the in-state rival, he said.

“It’s going to be fun,” Kimball said. “I got a little taste of it last year just being on the sidelines.”

Clemson's sophomore pitcher Tristan Smith and freshman pitcher Aidan Knaak are tied for the strikeout lead with 11 each. Of all Tiger players that have pitched at least six innings, Smith leads the team with a 3.12 ERA.

Over in Columbia, Kimball has pitched through six of his own innings for a 1.50 ERA. And junior pitcher Eli Jones and freshman pitcher Eddie Copper each have a 1.00 ERA through nine innings pitched.

On the mound, the Gamecocks have a combined team ERA of 2.40 compared to the Tigers' 4.62.

While South Carolina has drawn an extensive 86 walks, it’s also left an average of 10.1 runners on base per game. Clemson has struggled with stranding base runners as well, totaling 71 across eight games.

The Gamecocks left 13 runners on base in an 11-2 loss to Belmont on Feb. 24. The South Carolina defense made multiple throwing and fielding errors to gift the Belmont offense four unearned runs.

For the Tigers, the game to forget was its 18-1 loss to Kennesaw State on Feb. 23. The team managed just two walks and five hits, with the lone RBI coming from redshirt freshman utility player Brodey Conn. Conn’s home run marked his first career hit.

Most recently, the Gamecocks topped Gardner-Webb 7-1 on Tuesday. The Tigers played Tuesday as well, earning a 12-6 win against USC Upstate.

The two teams were off Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for the first game of the weekend series. It will be Clemson’s first road test. Both teams have played consecutive home games up to now.

“We’ll go out there and compete as hard as we can, just like they will, and we’ll see what happens,” Kingston said.

Game one will be played at 7 p.m. on Friday at Founders Park — the Gamecocks’ home field.

Game two will be played at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Segra Park, a neutral site and home of the Minor League Columbia Fireflies.

Game three will be played at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson — the Tigers’ home field.