The last time an University of South Carolina baseball team lost on opening day was in 1998. The opponent who beat them? The College of Charleston.
History repeated itself 17 years later in Columbia S.C., as No. 25 Charleston beat No. 21 South Carolina, 6-3, on Friday in a season opener between nationally ranked opponents.
The Cougars sent 2014’s 10-game winner Taylor Clarke to the mound on Friday afternoon to start against a talented Gamecocks squad.
Clarke needed an inning to shake the rust off, loading the bases in the first inning with three straight walks. Clarke escaped the inning with South Carolina scoring just one run to take an early 1-0 lead.
After Charleston got the run back in the next frame on a groundout by Alex Pastorious, Clarke dialed himself in for a brilliant night. He allowed just one run on two hits in six innings of work, while striking out five Gamecock batters.
The Cougars’ offense came alive in the fifth inning with three runs. After Pastorious and freshman Alex Brown both singled, Blake Butler drove Pastorious in with a RBI single. Nick Pappas then walked to load the bases, which set up a sacrifice fly RBI by Carl Wise. Morgan Phillips proceeded to single to drive Butler in for the third run of the inning and a 4-1 lead.
Wise drove in another run with a single in the seventh inning to push Charleston’s lead to 5-1. The Cougars got one more run in the eighth inning on Brown’s first collegiate RBI to take a 6-1 lead.
With Clarke having thrown 88 pitches, head coach Monte Lee sent freshman relief pitcher Wade Arduini into the game to start the seventh inning. He got through the seventh inning unscathed, but ran into trouble to start the eighth.
After South Carolina converted a bunt into a single, Arduini walked the next two batters to load the bases. The next two Gamecock batters drove in two runs, closing the Cougars’ lead to 6-3. Hayden McCutcheon relieved Arduini with one out in the eighth and escaped the inning without further damage.
McCutcheon closed the game out in the ninth, sealing the opening day win for the Cougars.
“I thought we did a pretty solid job hitting with two strikes,” Lee said. “Our guys swung the bat well. Outside of Taylor Clarke’s first inning, he settled in and threw the ball extremely well and got out deep into the game. You got to give him credit.”
Clarke acknowledged that opening day anxiousness contributed to his rough first inning.
“By the third inning, I had the preseason jitters out of the way,” Clarke said. “I was able to start executing pitches and settle down. I just went out there and threw my pitches and my defense made plays behind me.”
Eight of nine Cougars recored a hit in Friday night’s win. Charleston had 14 hits compared to South Carolina’s four.
The Cougars will jump right back into action with the Gamecocks for a Saturday doubleheader. The first game of the day begins at 1 p.m., while game two will begin approximately 45 minutes after the conclusion of game one.
Junior righty Nathan Helvey will start for Charleston in game one, while junior left-hander Eric Bauer will be on the mound for game two.
“The first game of the doubleheader is going to be a tough one. [South Carolina] is going to battle their rear-ends off. They will have a Friday-night caliber starter with a power arm, so we will have our hands full,” Lee said.