Compiled from reports by T&D correspondent Zach Lentz and Collyn Taylor of GamecockCentral.com.
COLUMBIA — Last year, T.J. Hopkins ended game one of the Carolina-Clemson series with his glove, making a diving play in center to end the game. This year, he did it with his bat.
On Friday night, Hopkins delivered the game-winning play once again, lifting a sacrifice fly to left as the Gamecocks walked-off the Tigers 3-2.
It's the Gamecocks (7-3) third-straight win to start the Clemson series, dating back to 2015.
"Coach Kingston and the new coaching staff have really changed my mindset about a baseball game,” Hopkins said. “We’re never out of it. That’s what he stresses in the dugout.”
And then there's Matt Williams, the pinch hitter who had played in eight games but had only three at-bats. He is the guy who came off the bench Friday to belt a game-tying home run, starting the comeback win over No. 10 Clemson.
The Gamecocks were coming off back-to-back losses to in-state foes Charleston Southern and Furman.
“We spent the last two days looking in the mirror trying to figure out what we can learn from it," South Carolina first-year head coach Mark Kingston said. "The worst thing you can do from a loss is feel sorry for yourself and not learn something from it.”
It was a frigid Friday night at Founders Park in Columbia, but the pitching was red-hot for the Tigers and the Gamecocks.
Clemson starting pitcher Jacob Hennessy finished the night going five innings with three hits allowed, two strikeouts, two walks and one earned run, while his counterpart Adam Hill was nearly perfect in his seven innings of work. Hill allowed only two hits, two walks and struck out 14 batters on the night.
"Adam Hill, Wow. I've seen a lot of great starts in my time as a baseball coach, but that was one of the best ones I've seen,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “So, gotta give that young man a lot of credit. He was as good as it gets.
"And their bullpen did an outstanding job. So, they pitched exceptionally well and they scored just enough."
But it was the Tiger bullpen that ended up losing the game, as Tiger closer Ryley Gilliam gave up the game-winning hit to T.J. Hopkins in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Gamecocks broke the scoring drought in the bottom of the fifth inning. After Jonah Bride singled to start the inning, Hunter Taylor singled to give the Gamecocks runners on first and second with only one out. The Tigers retired the next batter, but a routine infield pop fly by Justin Row was botched by Tiger second baseman Grayson Byrd and allowed Bride to reach home for the first run of the game.
The Tigers responded in the top of the sixth inning. After a walk by Logan Davidson, Seth Beer launched a home run blast into the Gamecock bullpen that gave the Tigers their first run of the game and the lead, 2-1.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the eighth inning that the Gamecocks once again lit up the scoreboard. This time it was a Matt Williams' pinch-hit, lead-off home run that tied the game, 2-2.
"He's got to be in like his sixth year or something around here," Lee said. "What a great kid. Got to give him credit. That guy had one home run in 163 at-bats last year, so when he pinch-hit for Row, they brought him in for one reason.
"What a great call by Coach (Mark) Kingston to bring him in, to pinch-hit him right there. That's a tough spot to come into and give that veteran left-handed hitter an opportunity to step up there. And man, did he run into it."
The Gamecocks put the Tigers away in the ninth inning. Following a walk to Bride, Gilliam’s throwing error on a pick-off attempt allowed Bride to reach third base with no outs. Three batters later, it was T.J. Hopkins who drove a deep fly ball to left field to plate pinch runner Danny Blair and give the Gamecocks the victory by a final score of 3-2.
Lee said "we'll be ready to play (tomorrow). I think the biggest thing that we'll take away from tonight is that we didn't play very well, but we were still in the game and our pitching staff gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame. We've gotta be more disciplined."
GAMECHANGER: Hopkins' drive
T.J. Hopkins delivered a one-out sacrifice fly to left, picking up the game-winning play and his only RBI of the game.
The junior Seth Beer continued his red-hot play against the Gamecocks. After he amassed two home runs, three RBI and seven walks in last year’s series, Beer broke up Adam Hill’s no-hitter with a blast over the right field wall. But it wasn't enough to help snag a win for the Tigers.
KEY STAT: 14
Gamecock starting pitcher Adam Hill equaled his Founders Park record of 14 strikeouts.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE GAMECOCKS: Relief pitching
With two runners on and one out in the eighth and down a run, Eddy Demurias came in and got Seth Beer to pop up, followed by a Patrick Cromwell' groundout to end the inning and the threat.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE TIGERS: Key Error
The Tigers had been one of the best defensive teams in the nation heading into Friday’s game, but an error proved very costly. Grayson Byrd’s dropped infield pop-fly allowed the Gamecocks to score their first run.
UP NEXT: The Tigers will look to even the series against the Gamecocks Saturday (3 p.m.) at Fluor Field in Greenville. Clemson will send Brooks Crawford to the mound to face Cody Morris from South Carolina. Clemson will be designated the home team for the game.