Carolina vs. Clemson six times a baseball season? It used to happen

Key moment in Clemson rivalry came in 1985

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 26, 2014 

June Raines, former head coach from 1977-1996

TRACY GLANTZ — File photo

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    SIX GAMES, EIGHT SEASONS

    South Carolina and Clemson have met six times in a single season in eight different seasons. Here are the results.

    1932: Clemson won 4-of-6

    1980: Clemson won 4-of-6, including two games in the NCAA tournament’s Atlantic regional

    1985: USC swept the series 6-0

    1986: Clemson won 4-of-6

    1989: Clemson won 4-of-6

    1990: The teams split the series 3-3

    1991: Clemson won 4-of-6

    2002: The teams split the games 3-3, but USC won the two meetings in the College World Series

The intensity level for college baseball’s best rivalry figures to be at an all-time high when No. 3 South Carolina faces No. 11 Clemson in this weekend’s annual three-game series, which again will take place at three locales – Columbia, Greenville and Clemson.

But, there used to be a time when the Gamecocks and Tigers doubled their fun.

The teams have played six games in a season eight times in a rivalry that dates back to 1899, with two of those times – 1980 and 2002 – coming because they also met twice in the NCAA tournament.

In five seasons from 1985 to 1991, the rivals played six times in varying formats before scheduling got more complicated with USC’s move from the Metro Conference to the SEC.

It was in the first of those seasons, 1985, that the Gamecocks did something that hasn’t been done since. They won all six games.

South Carolina took the first three in a late April series at Sarge Frye Field by scores of 14-2, 11-6 and 6-5 before going to Clemson in mid-May to end the regular season and winning three more by scores of 12-6, 8-6, and 8-3.

The sweep of Clemson helped catapult the Gamecocks to a 47-22 record and a trip to the College World Series. The Tigers finished 36-30-1, out of the NCAA tournament.

“We were very fortunate that year. Of course, we had a pretty good ballclub, too,” said former coach June Raines, who guided USC to 763 wins from 1977-96. “We were a good-hitting club and we had (pitcher) Mike Cook. He could dominate a game pretty good, and he dominated them twice.”

Cook, a junior right-hander with a 16-2 record and 1.91 ERA that season, earned All-American honors and was the Angels’ first-round pick in the MLB draft. Now working in commercial construction in the Charleston area, Cook pitched in the major leagues for parts of five seasons.

“We had no idea we’d sweep them, but everything was falling into place. Everybody was hitting or somebody came up big every night, and everything worked out perfectly,” Cook said. “We had a great hitting team, and I did pretty well, but I had a great team behind me that helped everything.”

The 1985 team, which still holds school records for runs scored (629) and home runs (144) in a season, had seven players reach double figures in homers, led by junior first baseman Joe Datin, who batted .348 with 23 home runs and 88 RBIs.

Raines said things “just fell into place” in winning six consecutive games, noting his respect for the late Bill Wilhelm, Clemson’s legendary coach from 1958-93.

“Things just fell into place, and it didn’t work for Clemson,” Raines said. “I remember two years later (1987) when they swept us in a four-game (season) series. It works both ways.”

Scott Mackie, a senior outfielder who hit .329 with 32 RBIs that season, doesn’t remember a lot of the details of the six games, but he does carry distinct memories of the two series, starting with the one in Columbia.

“Like most games with those guys, it was very competitive, very intense, a lot of fun,” said Mackie, who works in the mortgage industry in the Atlanta area.

After the Gamecocks finished second in the Metro Conference tournament to Florida State, they found themselves in perfect position for an NCAA bid before heading to Clemson.

“I do remember going to Clemson and not feeling a lot of pressure, which was a little unusual. We went in there really loose,” Mackie said. “It was almost like nothing we could do was wrong. The bench was having fun, and not in a disrespectful way, because we always respected Clemson greatly. It was a phenomenal rivalry.”

Raines called the dramatic sweep a huge lift as the team entered the NCAA East regional in Columbia, where the Gamecocks rolled past LaSalle, St. John’s and Western Carolina on the way to Omaha, where they lost two straight to Arkansas and to Oklahoma State.

“Our guys gained some confidence from it, and we felt like we could play with anybody in the country,” Raines said. “Any time you play your in-state rival school and play well and win, it gives you a boost.”

Mackie remains close friends with a number of former teammates. He still looks back on what they did against the Tigers with pride as well as the camaraderie that pushed the team to the CWS.

“That season was the most fun I had in my four years at Carolina, and I enjoyed every one of them,” Mackie said. “That group of guys, when we first showed up in the fall, hung out together off the field, and there was a tremendous chemistry with us. That carried over to the field.”

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