CLEMSON, S.C. — Monte Lee’s return to Clemson was not a good one Friday night.
Clemson baseball welcomed its old head coach back to Doug Kingsmore Stadium with a 5-2 victory over No. 23 South Carolina to take Game 1 of the rivalry’s three-game series. The Tigers also won their fifth straight over their rival, the program’s longest win streak in the series dating back to the 1995 and 1996 seasons when they won eight straight.
Lee coached at Clemson from 2016-’22 before being dismissed after missing the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season in 2022. Lee was hired in the off-season as the Gamecocks’ new hitting coach.
From 1987-2019, the Clemson baseball program missed the NCAAs just once.
The win was also new Clemson head coach Erik Bakich’s first victory over the Gamecocks.
“It is the best rivalry in college baseball, and it is just as electric as I remember it twenty-one years ago,” Bakich said. “They are a great team. They are ranked. It is tough to beat everybody on your schedule like they had done coming in.”
The Tigers (5-4) got solo home runs from Cooper Ingle and Gavin Abrams, while starter Austin Gordon threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Clemson also got solid performances out of the bullpen from Jackson Lindley and Casey Tallent to end their four-game losing streak.
Lindley was awarded with the win.
“Absolutely incredible, especially (Gordon). He pitched his butt off,” Blake Wright said. “It was incredible to see some of the other guys come in after him and really shut the door. It was fun to watch.”
South Carolina starter Will Sanders suffered his first loss of the season in three starts. It was also the Gamecocks’ first loss as a team.
The Tigers tallied nine hits off the USC ace, while plating five runs, four of which were earned in his six innings of work.
“He’s got great stuff. You got a guy that is up to 96 with his fastball and he has a slider, a curveball and a change-up and two different breaking balls,” Bakich said. “Both are swing-and-miss pitches, so I think any hitter getting a first-pitch fastball in the zone to hit, I thought our guys did a good job with that.”
Clemson grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, as Ingle led off with a solo home run to leftfield on the first pitch he saw, while Cam Cannarella doubled down the leftfield line to score Blake Wright, who also doubled with one out.
“That was a great ton setter of a first inning,” Bakich said. “For Austin to go 1-2-3 and for Cooper to hit the first pitch out of here, I don’t know if you can script it any better than that.”
The Tigers extended their lead to 3-0 in the second. Chad Fairey, who singled to rightfield to lead off the inning, came home to score thanks to a dropped third strike from catcher Cole Messina and a throwing error to first base. The passed ball allowed Fairey to move to third, while the error, which went over the head of first baseman Ethan Petry, brought the Clemson right fielder home.
Clemson went up 4-0 on a fielder’s choice RBI. Wright, who led off the inning with a base hit to center, scored easily from third.
Though he did not earn the win, Gordon pitched 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. The righty held the Gamecocks to just three hits, while striking out two and walking none.
South Carolina (9-1) had an opportunity to score in the top of the fifth inning as they got runners on second and third with two outs following a throwing error from Ingle. The Clemson catcher tried to catch Carson Hornung off the bag at first, but he missed fired and the ball slowly rolled into right field, allowing Hornung and Talmadge LeCroy to move up.
But Lindley, who came on with two outs in the fifth, struck out Will McGillis swinging to end the inning.
Abrams gave the Tigers a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning with a pinch-hit home run to right field. The bomb was the sophomore’s first career home run.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks came into Friday’s game averaging 11.7 runs per game, but Clemson pitching held them to two runs on seven hits.
Injury update: Clemson pitcher Ryan Ammons, who started the last two Fridays for the Tigers did not play due to a muscle strain in his throwing arm. He will be out a few weeks, according to Bakich.
Player of the Game: Freshman Cam Cannarella finished the night 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
Key Moment: South Carolina finally got on the board with an RBI single to right from LeCroy in the top of the seventh inning that cut the Tigers’ lead to 5-1. The hit was the Gamecocks’ second of the inning and put runners on the corners with no outs. However, Lindley struck out Hornung with a breaking ball looking and then got his old teammate Dylan Brewer to hit into a double play at short to end the South Carolina threat. Up next: Clemson and South Carolina will play Game 2 of their three-game series on Saturday at Flour Field in Greenville. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.
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—photo courtesy of Clemson Athletics