The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: No. 19 South Carolina baseball drops 2 weekend Palmetto Series matchups against Clemson

The South Carolina baseball team are 8-3 overall following two back-to-back losses to the Clemson Tigers in the 2024 Palmetto Series. The weekend began with game one of the series at Founders Park, which was postponed due to rain on Friday. The teams moved across town on Saturday for game two at Segra Park in the "Battle at Bull Street," where the Gamecocks suffered a 5-4 loss in extra innings against the Tigers. South Carolina then traveled to Clemson on Sunday to close out the series with a 5-4 loss at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

The No. 19 South Carolina baseball team was swept in the first two games of the Palmetto Series against No. 10 Clemson over the weekend.

The first game of the series was originally scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. but was cancelled due to rain. According to a release from South Carolina Athletics, the game is expected to take place at Founders Park on a future date to be determined.

As a result, the Gamecocks and the Tigers kicked off the series Saturday afternoon at Segra Park in a game that resulted in a 5-4 Clemson victory.

Junior pitcher Eli Jones delivered a solid start for South Carolina on the mound, going 4.2 innings and allowing just two runs. Both runs came on a fourth-inning double by sophomore outfielder Cam Cannarella, which gave the Tigers an early 2-0 lead.

The Gamecocks responded quickly with a solo home run by sophomore shortstop Will Tippett in the fifth inning, only for Clemson to build on its lead with a two-run home run in the eighth to make the score 4-1.

South Carolina would rally in the ninth inning to send the game to extra innings, though, on a pinch-hit RBI triple by junior outfielder Blake Jackson and a two-run home run by sophomore outfielder Ethan Petry, which tied the game at four runs apiece.

Neither team recorded a hit after that home run until the 12th inning, when junior shortstop Andrew Ciufo launched another home run to give the Tigers a walk-off victory.

"We're a good team. We played really well tonight," head coach Mark Kingston said. "Again, we were one swing, one run short. It's the way the game works sometimes."

But the Gamecocks were unable to recover from Saturday's loss in game two of the series, which ended in a 5-4 Clemson victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium Sunday afternoon. 

South Carolina picked up an early 2-0 lead after junior catcher Cole Messina launched a home run to center field in the first inning.

The Gamecocks would give up another run in the bottom of the inning but re-established a two-run lead on an RBI single from fifth-year outfielder Dylan Brewer. 

Clemson battled back to tie the game at three runs apiece in the fourth inning with run-scoring hits from senior catcher Jimmy Obertop and junior outfielder Will Taylor. The Tigers gained and built on its lead with home runs from freshman third baseman Nolan Nawrocki and senior second baseman Blake Wright in the sixth and eight innings, respectively, to make the score 5-3. 

Petry hit his second ninth-inning home run of the series to bring the Gamecocks with in a run but it ultimately would not be enough as the Tigers would hold on to earn another 5-4 win. 

Here are some takeaways from South Carolina's first series against a ranked opponent this season.

South Carolina bats take time to heat up in game one

Although the Gamecocks almost took the first game of the series with a late offensive surge, it took a while for the team's offense to start clicking.

South Carolina batters went 1-12 and struck out eight times over the first four innings. Clemson's starting pitcher that afternoon, sophomore Tristan Smith, stifled the Gamecocks' offense in the five innings he pitched, allowing only three hits and striking out nine batters.

South Carolina's offense ignited between the fifth and ninth innings, recording eight hits and scoring all four of its runs during that time frame. The team's offense fell flat against in extra innings, however, as its hitters went a combined 0-9 and had just one reach base — senior first baseman Gavin Casas, who was hit by a pitch.

While Kingston was not concerned about the number of times Gamecock batters struck out, he said the series opener was a game of missed opportunities for South Carolina.

"Both teams struck out in a very similar number ... It's power arms out there — the average fastball out there is real, strikeouts are going to happen," Kingston said. "We just need to do a better job in big situations, just making sure we put the ball in play."

Gainey delivers electric performance despite loss

Momentum flipped back in the Gamecocks' direction following Petry's home run, and senior pitcher Garrett Gainey played an important role in keeping South Carolina in the game in extra innings.

Gainey, a transfer from Liberty, pitched 3.2 innings against Clemson on Friday, striking out six batters and showcasing his intensity on the mound with two energetic celebrations after retiring the side in the ninth and 10th innings.

His lone blemish on the night was the solo home run he allowed to Ciufo in the 12th inning, which was the only run and hit he gave up.

Jones said the level of intensity Gainey shows on the mound during each outing is "incredible."

"I've never seen a guy with that level of energy come in every single day ready to play baseball," Jones said. "It's really incredible to see, and it's definitely hard to follow." 

Gamecocks struggle to capitalize with runners on base in game two

The second contest of the Palmetto Series was a game of missed opportunities for South Carolina, who struggled to take advantage of runners in scoring position.

After going 2-13 with runners in scoring position in Saturday's loss, the Gamecocks went 2-10 in similar positions on Sunday. South Carolina also left 10 runners on base compared to Clemson's four.

Both team's offenses struggled overall, with the Gamecocks hitting .156 (5-32) and the Tigers hitting .172(5-29). In the end, however, the Tigers' lone unearned run was the difference maker in another game. 

What's next?

South Carolina (8-3) will return to action with two midweek games at Founders Park. The Gamecocks will take on The Citadel at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, followed by a matchup against Davidson at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Both games will be streamed on SEC Network+.