Playing center field is, in part, tied to making calculations.
South Carolina centerfielder Evan Marzilli computed the situation Friday at Riley Park: the Gamecocks were up by a run, with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning. Clemson had runners on second and third and an even count on Jay Baum.
Marzilli figured Baum would be protecting with two strikes, so he shaded the right-handed batter to right-center field. But Baum's bat went against the odds and the scouting report, turning on a Nolan Belcher changeup to drive a liner in left-center field, a shot held up and cork-screwed by a strong wind blowing in off the Ashley River.
Playing center field is also about instincts, recovery speed and body control to respond when calculations go awry. Marzilli got an excellent jump on the ball, covered 45 feet when he arrived to intercept the ball with a fully extended dive. Marzilli belly flopped on the turf and held up his glove which had contained the final out in South Carolina's 3-2 extra innings win in the series opener.
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No. 3 South Carolina's 15th win in 21 tries against rival Clemson (4-3) was tied to Marzilli's play in center -- he also threw a runner out as home -- Michael Roth's seven quality innings and Sean Sullivan and Connor Bright's RBI singles in the 11th.
"I was actually in the other gap that's why I had to dive for it," Marzilli said. "I got a good read. I feel like I kind of slipped on it (but) I got under it."
Playing an effective center field is also about building muscle memory, said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner.
"He makes those sorts of plays all the time in practice," Tanner said. "When we are taking batting practice he is not just sitting around shagging fly balls he is trying to make plays. And sometimes I tell him to be real careful at diving but he works at it, he tries to get angles. That's a tough play. The winds blowing, (the ball) is diving a little bit .... It was a great jump.
"It's just instinct."
Clemson coach Jack Leggett has been on the bitter end of the rivalry in recent years. South Carolina (8-0) and Marzilli dealt Clemson more heartache Friday.
"I thought for sure it was going in," Leggett said if the hit. "(Marzilli) took the chance (of diving). If it goes by him we win."
Sullivan noted South Carolina has become familiar with outstanding defensive play in center field play in recent years.
"I know we've had Jackie (Bradley Jr.) here for the last couple of years," Sullivan said. "He was one of the best defensive outfielders in the country, obviously. Evan is right up there. Evan is an unbelievable outfielder."
Defensive plays were critical as runs were precious in a pitchers' duel in a pitcher park.
Roth allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings, striking out seven against two walks.
He was matched by Clemson ace Kevin Brady, who allowed one run over six innings, striking out seven against two walks.
Marzilli saved Roth a run when threw out Dominic Attanasio at the plate in the fifth inning when South Carolina held a 1-0 lead, his first critical defensive play of the night and yet another offering of heartache for Clemson.
Note: Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer (groin) played and reached base all five times. ... Clemson catcher Spencer Kieboom left the game with an elbow injury after a collision at homeplate in the 10th.