Its safe to say that USC coach Chad Holbrook came away happy with the results of his teams annual series with Clemson.
The Gamecocks won two-of-three with the pair of victories coming on shutouts to continue their recent supremacy in the rivalry. With 20 wins in 28 meetings over the last seven seasons, the Gamecocks have managed to win 71 percent of the time against a very good college baseball program.
Theres no simple explanation given the relative strengths of the two over a long period of time. Clemson has reached the NCAA tournament 24 of the last 25 seasons, with seven trips to the College World Series in that period, and USC has made it to the NCAA tournament 14 of the past 15 seasons, with six CWS trips in that stretch, including a pair of national championships.
Holbrook didnt really want to address the topic except to say that his team seems to have a lot of good fortune against the Tigers. But its really more than that. The Gamecocks have made more clutch plays in big moments while displaying what can only be described as an infectious confidence against their rivals.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett didnt want to make too much of it either. He doesnt believe his players are pressing against the Gamecocks. Hes fine with the progress his young team is making, and Saturdays 6-3 win bore him out.
But sandwiched around that Clemson victory were two dominating pitching performances by USC starters Jordan Montgomery and Nolan Belcher. Throw in Tyler Webbs one inning in relief of Montgomery, and that two-game pitching line is 18 innings, six hits, no runs, two walks, and 19 strikeouts.
The Gamecocks also piled up 14 runs in those two wins, although 10 were unearned. But that speaks to USCs consistency in all phases of the game when the two play from great pitching to timely hitting to solid defense.
Sure, this current streak can also be viewed as an anomaly. The Tigers, for instance, won 22 of their 32 meetings with the Gamecocks between 1991 and 1999. Clemsons program was stronger over those nine seasons, when the Tigers went to the postseason every year and the Gamecocks made it only three times.
So is South Carolinas upper hand in the last handful of seasons indicative of something bigger? Its hard to say. Both programs are filled with standout players and top-notch coaches, but you have to wonder at this point if theres more of a confidence gap than a talent gap.
Clemson won two-of-three games in the 2010 regular-season series, including a 19-6 blowout clincher in Carolina Stadium. But the teams met again in Omaha, and the Gamecocks battled back through the losers bracket to beat the Tigers twice, the first win signaling the arrival of pitcher Michael Roth as a USC legend. Those games ended Clemsons season and catapulted USC to its first national title.
Counting those two wins, the Gamecocks have defeated the Tigers 10 of the last 13 times, playing with that unique combination of intensity and looseness that Roth made his trademark. After Sundays win, Belcher, Grayson Greiner and Connor Bright all referenced the importance of not allowing the pressure of the rivalry to overwhelm them. Each spoke of playing relaxed, with Belcher pointing to USCs dugout antics as a valuable component of team chemistry when faced with a games big moments.
Holbrook also pushed a button that worked by installing Bright in right field in place of slumping T.J. Costen. Bright stepped up with two hits, including a two-run double in a five-run sixth inning.
But Holbrook played Bright as much for his self-assured attitude than his ability on the field. Comparing Brights confident outlook and aggressive style to that of former third baseman Adrian Morales, Holbrook wanted a little fighting spirit in his lineup in the rubber match.
He loves to be up there when the games on the line. Hes got that factor about him, Holbrook said. Theres no moment too big for Connor Bright.
The same thing can be said these days about the Gamecocks when they meet their rivals. They just keep coming up big.