It doesn't matter who is on the top step of the dugout — South Carolina's domination of Clemson continues.
Starter Jordan Montgomery pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out a career-high nine batters, to lead the Gamecocks to a 6-0 series-opening win over Clemson on Friday night. The Gamecocks (7-1) have won six of the last seven and 19 out of their last 26 against the Tigers (5-3).
Chad Holbrook was head coach for his first rivalry game for South Carolina as Ray Tanner, now the athletics director, spent his first Clemson game off the field in 17 years watching from the Gamecocks' radio booth.
Tanner watched his team win by taking advantage of mistakes and making all the small plays. The Gamecocks scored by beating out a throw from first after a ground-out, on a walk, a pair of sacrifice flies, a throwing error from a pitcher and a single.
The Tigers had three errors, and the five of the Gamecocks' six runs came in innings when Clemson made mistakes.
"We've been playing good defense but we hurt ourselves a couple of times," Tigers coach Jack Leggett said.
And Clemson again ran into a dominating pitcher. This time it was Montgomery, a sophomore from Sumter.
"Jordan has got a great change-up. I think he was able to pitch inside. The velocity on his fastball was very good. He felt good. He had better command tonight than he had his previous two starts this season," Holbrook said.
And he had the trust of his manager. With South Carolina up 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Steve Wikerson doubled to become the only Tiger to lead off an inning by getting on base. Shane Kennedy then drew a walk, prompting a trip to the mound.
Holbrook kept his starter in, and Montgomery got a long fly ball to center, a short pop-up to second and a fly ball just past the infield to ease his way out of the jam.
"He's an unflappable kid. He doesn't mind the tight moments," Holbrook said.
Montgomery wanted to finish the game. "I was only at 112 pitches, so I figured I could throw at least 10 more," he said.
But Holbrook sent in ace reliever Tyler Webb, who struck out the side in the ninth. The coach said it was too early to use Montgomery too much.
South Carolina scored its first run in the fifth on Holbrook's first in-game decision in the rivalry. He put in football running back Shon Carson to pinch run. Carson made an excellent decision, sprinting home from third and sliding headfirst to just beat the tag after Tanner English's infield grounder and put the Gamecocks ahead 1-0.
"It was total instinct on his part. It wasn't anything we did as coaches. He read the ball and took off," Holbrook said.
Clemson starter Daniel Gossett lasted into the seventh, throwing 110 pitches, striking out four and allowing three hits. But the sophomore walked four, including back-to-back walks to the final batters he faced loading the bases for reliever Joseph Moorefield. The senior walked in a run on a full count, gave up a sacrifice fly and then the game's only run off a hit, a single by LB Dantzler that put the Gamecocks ahead 4-0.
There was even a bit of controversy to add to the rivalry's lore. In the bottom of the fifth, Garrett Boulware drove the ball deep into left. Graham Saiko missed a jumping catch as the ball bounced back into the field, but recovered to throw Boulware out at third base after he slid past the bag. Leggett spent the time between innings arguing Boulware hit it out as fans booed.
But Leggett said the Tigers blew plenty of other opportunities.
"We didn't get but one leadoff man on base all night. That makes it tough," Leggett said. "We didn't get a chance to use our speed or get our bunting game going or anything going offensively."
The series shifts to Greenville's minor-league park about 30 minutes from Clemson's campus on Saturday. The teams' conclude Sunday at South Carolina's Carolina Stadium.
South Carolina's domination in the series includes two straight over Clemson at the 2010 College World Series on the way to its first national title. A season ago, the Gamecocks knocked the Tigers from the NCAA regional with a pair of one-run victories.
Leggett said he will tell his team just to forget Friday night. "Baseball is a funny game. There is a lot of season left," he said.
And Holbrook isn't going to bask in his first rivalry win either.
"It will be a dogfight tomorrow and it will be a dogfight Sunday," Holbrook said.