The Clemson Tigers (32-4, 22-4) finally have their first chance at a rivalry softball matchup with South Carolina (23-17, 2-13). While the Gamecocks are coming off just their second SEC victory, the Tigers are on a different level of a hot streak.
Head coach John Rittman and his second-year program are riding their second 10+ game winning streak of the season, and with the postseason on the horizon, the first rivalry matchup could either be a trap game or a stroll through the park for Rittman's streaking Tigers.
"Yeah, you know I've heard a lot about (the rivalry)," Rittman said. "Obviously been to the basketball, football, baseball, all the other sporting events and I've seen the rivalry games take place in those sports and it's special.
"Really, whatever school you're at, you have a rival, and those games always mean a little bit more. For us, we're looking forward to it and looking forward to visiting their nice stadium and hopefully playing very well in the first rivalry game ever."
After a tough fought series with Duke in the middle of the schedule put a halt to a 17 game winning streak, Clemson is back on a tear with 12 straight after a four-game sweep against Boston College. The Gamecocks haven't managed an outright series win against an SEC club all season long. Still, they have had success in some of the two teams overlapping opponents with wins over North Carolina, Winthrop, and Furman and a 1-5 loss to the Duke Blue Devils.
South Carolina is led by redshirt senior Kenzi Maguire, who has only hit two home runs this season for the garnet and black but boasts a .446 hitting average, the second Gamecock with a .400 or better batting average. In contrast, the Tigers have zero hitters at or above that clip.
Clemson's advantage is sure to come from the circle, as the pitching isn't quite as even for the two sides. The Gamecocks' two most experienced pitchers on the season feature earned run averages over 2.00, with freshman Leah Powell right at the mark with 2.01. Senior Kelsey Oh is at more than double Powell's with a 4.27 ERA in the circle in the most innings pitched for coach Smith.
Insert the budding do-it-all star for Rittman, Valerie Cagle.
At 141.1 IP on the year, Cagle has more than double the time delivering the softball than the Gamecocks' Oh, and with so much time with the softball under her control still has less than a 1.00 ERA four games from the regular season's end, averaging 0.89. In fact, no other Tigers pitcher with more than 10 IP on the season has a 2.00 ERA or higher on the year, with Regan Spencer at 1.72 and Millie Thompson at 1.83.
"(Cagle) mows them down and makes my job pretty easy, you know, got to stay on your toes sometimes, though, because then there's that one occasion she doesn't strike everyone out, so you've got to be ready," Clemson shortstop Ansley Gilstrap said of Cagle.
"I'm really excited to start Clemson and Carolina's first rivalry game. I grew up in the Columbia area going to games. So this is pretty exciting. I remember, I transferred from USC Upstate, and so before Clemson softball was here, Upstate and Carolina were the best teams in the state. So we would play each other, and that was our rivalry game, and those games are always so much fun."
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