Clemson Returns To Columbia For Regionals

No. 1 South Carolina (39-18, 17-12 SEC, RPI 13)

You could say South Carolina limps into the postseason, having lost four of its last five games.  However, those five games were against fellow regional hosts Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, so the Gamecocks are not a foe to be trifled with.

South Carolina is 19th in the nation in home runs, with 47 home runs in 57 games.  15 of those have come from senior LB Dantzler, tying for most in the SEC.  Sophomore Joey Pankake has added another ten homers for the Gamecocks, giving them two powerful hitters in the lineup.

The Gamecocks are also 25th in earned run average.  Nolan Belcher has met and exceeded the standards of his senior captaincy, with a 2.80 ERA, a .239 opposing batting average, and 88 strikeouts.  Jordan Montgomery missed some time with an arm injury, but has returned to action and maintained a 1.86 ERA by allowing 13 earned runs in 11 starts.  Freshman Jack Wynkoop has earned a spot in the rotation with a 2.81 ERA.

The Clemson-South Carolina early-season rivalry series has a unique format, where one game is played at each team’s home field and a game is played at a neutral field.  This year, the Gamecocks claimed the games in Columbia and Clemson, while the Tigers won the neutral-site game in Greenville.

No. 4 Saint Louis (40-19, 17-7 Atlantic 10, RPI 72)

Saint Louis earned the top seed in the A-10 Tournament and a first round bye, but lost to Xavier to venture into the loser’s bracket. The Billikens responded with five straight wins to win the conference title, earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.

Unfortunately, the A-10 was 20th in conference RPI, which makes it difficult to judge how Saint Louis will fare against the stiff competition it will face this weekend. The Billikens were 1-2 against top 50 RPI teams this season, splitting a pair of games with San Diego and suffering an 8-7 loss to Ole Miss.

The Billikens led their conference in batting average while posting the A-10’s third best earned run average.  Their .307 batting average places them 19th in the nation in the category, and they have six hitters batting .319 or better.  Sophomore Mike Vigliarolo’s .347 batting average helped earn him A-10 Co-Player of the Year, while senior Alex Kelly boasts a .340 average with 11 home runs and 60 runs batted in.

The Saint Louis rotation boasts three pitchers with respectable numbers. Junior Clay Smith posted a 3.76 ERA and pitched three complete games to earn a spot on the Atlantic 10 second team. Alex Alemann (3.36 ERA, 70 strikeouts) and Nick Bates (4.05 ERA) accompany him.  However, they combine for a .280 opposing batting average, which is cause for concern.

No. 3 Liberty (34-27, 13-11 Big South, RPI 59)

Liberty returns to the ballpark where they started the year, losing two of three games in a season-opening series with the Gamecocks.  The Flames did not shy away from strong opponents, playing 20 games against RPI Top 50 teams. However, Liberty won just five of those 20, with three of those wins coming in the Big South tournament against Coastal Carolina and Campbell.

Of the 12 teams in the Big South, Liberty finished ninth in batting average.  The Flames did lead the conference in home runs, thanks to three players in the conference’s top 11 home run hitters. Junior Danny Grauer hit seven blasts, while junior Ryan Cordell and sophomore Ashton Perritt each had six.

HItting home runs is just where the fun begins for Perritt. He is also the team’s best relief pitcher, posting a 1.35 ERA.  The righty recorded nine saves in 20 appearances on the mound for Liberty, striking out 34 batters.

Liberty also has four pitchers who have started games with regularity and possess earned run averages below 3.80 in Josh Richardson, Carson Herndon, Brooks Roy, and Trey Lambert. Walks are a bit of a concern with the team, but they have an impressive .974 fielding percentage and allowed just 25 stolen bases this season.

No. 2 Clemson (39-20, 18-12 ACC, RPI 14)

Clemson boasts the highest RPI of a team not hosting a regional, as Kansas State edged out the Tigers for hosting privileges.  Clemson’s 0-3 run in the ACC Tournament likely had some impact on the decision, but it should also provide motivation for a young team looking to silence the critics.

They will also be looking to exorcise past demons in Columbia.  The Gamecocks defeated Clemson twice in last season’s Columbia regional, ending the Tigers’ season.

Clemson’s greatest asset is its speed. The Tigers led the ACC and are 15th in the nation in stolen bases, with 110 to their credit.  Shane Kennedy leads the squad with 22 steals, while Thomas Brittle and Steven Duggar have 19 and 15 thefts, respectively.  Brittle and Duggar also use that speed to cover a lot of ground in the outfield for the Tigers.

The Tigers will also welcome back freshman left-handed pitcher Matthew Crownover this weekend. 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Crownover was held out of the ACC Tournament after suffering from arm stiffness and making an early exit against Florida State in the last weekend of the regular season.  He, along with sophomore Daniel Gossett, give the Tigers a strong one-two punch atop the rotation which will need to have good outings this weekend.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.


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