Sports

Darnell gets 2 homers to help USC beat Clemson 7-1

USC's James Darnell watches his first homer of the game, a three-run shot in the first inning.
USC's James Darnell watches his first homer of the game, a three-run shot in the first inning.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina found its struggling offense as James Darnell blasted two of the team's four home runs in a 7-1 victory over rival Clemson on Wednesday.

The No. 15 Gamecocks (22-10) had managed only five runs in losing all three games at Georgia this past weekend -- and led some to wonder where the wall-banging club of this season had disappeared to.

It returned in full force against Clemson (18-14).

Darnell had a three-run shot and a two-run shot, his 11th and 12th of the season, to put USC ahead 5-1. Phil Disher added a solo homer and Justin Smoak tied the school's career mark with a solo home run.

Smoak equaled Hank Small's record of 48 in just his third season. Small played from 1972-75.

Starter Nick Godwin (3-2) made it all stand up, allowing just four hits in eight innings and striking out a career-high eight.

The result was USC's third consecutive win over Clemson this season and sixth in the past seven games.

"I think it's a feel-good situation for us," USC coach Ray Tanner said. "Our guys feel a little bit better about who they are."

Why shouldn't they?

After a first-inning homer from Clemson's Doug Hogan, the Gamecocks battered around their in-state rival as they have all season. In the three games thus far, USC has outscored the Tigers 22-3.

The Gamecocks go for their first season sweep since 2000 -- then the teams played just twice -- at Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium on April 16.

Darnell answered Hogan's homer with a first-inning shot of his own. The no-doubt-about-it blast to left center field followed Reese Havens' walk and a single by Smoak.

"I was impressed with our entire lineup tonight," Darnell said. "It seemed like everybody was making hard contact and hitting the ball. So it's a good feeling."

Clemson got a rally going in the second with Kyle Parker and Jeff Schaus reaching on singles. But Matt Sanders, attempting to bunt, lined out to Smoak at first, who threw to short to double up Parker.

Moments later, Godwin ended the threat by picking Schaus off first.

"They didn't hardly get another batter" on base, Godwin said. "It definitely pumped the crowd up a little bit too."

Darnell put the game out of reach in the third with his two-run homer to left center that ended the night of Clemson starter, freshman Craig Gullickson (3-2).

Not that it mattered much since reliever Casey Harman was immediately greeted by Disher's long homer. Smoak was up later for his shot.

Smoak, considered one of the country's top draft prospects, had heard about the record all season and was glad to tie it. "I cracked a smile and fist-pumped around first base," Smoak said. "I normally don't do that."

Godwin gave up just three singles after Hogan's early homer.

For Clemson, the struggles continued. The Tigers were swept at Miami this past weekend and have lost their past six games, their longest skid in 26 years. Worse yet, Clemson hosts No. 4 North Carolina in a three-game set this weekend.

Tigers coach Jack Leggett shook his head at his team's lack of production -- they haven't scored more than six runs in any of their past 12 games.

"I think our bats are just a little slow," Leggett said. "We're just not quite pulling the trigger when we get in fastball counts. ... We're just not really very good offensively right now."

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