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Analysis: No. 23 Թϱ softball captures win over No. 11 Clemson in tale of 12 innings

<p>FILE- Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter winds up her pitch during the South Carolina 7-2 victory over UNC Charlotte on Feb. 25, 2024. The Gamecocks defeated Clemson for the first time on March 20, 2024, since the Tigers became a Division 1 program in 2020.</p>
FILE- Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter winds up her pitch during the Թϱ 7-2 victory over UNC Charlotte on Feb. 25, 2024. The Gamecocks defeated Clemson for the first time on March 20, 2024, since the Tigers became a Division 1 program in 2020.

The No. 23 Թϱ softball team defeated No. 11 Clemson 6-4 on Wednesday night. The win marked the first time the Gamecocks have defeated the Tigers since Clemson became a Division I program in 2020. 

The grueling victory for the Gamecocks was sealed after a three-run 12th inning — the first time the team recorded any runs since the third inning, when senior catcher Jen Cummings hit her first home run of the season over the left field fence. 

Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter improved her record to 8-4 on the season. Vawter allowed three earned runs on seven hits while striking out two. Her command and velocity sharpened as she reached the later frames, pitching a solid 12 innings. 

The win gave the Gamecocks the lead in the Palmetto Series, which stands at 6-5 on the 2023-24 athletic calendar. 

Here are some key takeaways for Թϱ heading into its weekend matchup against No. 7 Tennessee.

Hits coming in a timely manner

Entering the 12th frame, Թϱ's offense had been held to just three runs on six hits, with just one coming in the four prior innings. Clemson senior pitcher Millie Thompson had Թϱ's number for much of the later innings, recording seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings of shutout work. 

Թϱ’s offense got to Thompson in the 12th, however, filling up the bases on three singles before Thompson was pulled out for recording only one out. The rally began with a single to center field from redshirt junior outfielder Carlie Henderson — one of her three hits on the evening — bringing her season average to .409. 

Singles from junior catcher Giulia Desiderio and junior shortstop Brooke Blankenship loaded the bases for senior third baseman Denver Bryant, who brought in the winning run on a ground ball to second base. Senior infielder Riley Blampied then plated two more runs on an RBI single to center field. 

After being shut down for most of the middle innings, the Gamecocks persevered late in the game to work at-bats and put runners in scoring position. 

Alana Vawter is a gamer 

Vawter threw 158 total pitches across 12.1 innings to help pick up the victory against the Tigers. It was the most innings she had ever thrown in one appearance across her five-year career, and it came at no better time than to capture a win against the cross-state rival.

The first frame looked a little shaky for Vawter, as she gave up a quick two-run home run to Clemson senior outfielder McKenzie Clark. Following the home run, however, Vawter retired 14 consecutive batters before allowing a single to begin the sixth inning. 

That sixth inning would be where the Tigers found its final run before the extra innings, loading the bases before a sacrifice fly from redshirt senior shortstop Alia Logoleo tied the game. But Vawter remained composed in the tight contest and would go on to throw five shutout innings. 

The defense behind Vawter was clutch

Vawter only pitched for two strikeouts across 12 innings. The real story came from the defense behind her. Of the 36 putouts recorded by Clemson's offense, 23 of them came from ground balls, mostly from the left side of the infield. 

Blankenship had ample opportunities to flash the leather, recording eight assists of the 23 ground outs. Bryant saw five assists, while freshman second baseman Karley Shelton saw four.

Many of these defense plays couldn’t have come at a better time for the Gamecocks — most significantly for Desiderio, who threw out a runner stealing second base in the seventh inning.

What’s next?

The Թϱ softball team will return to the diamond on Saturday when it faces the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers at 6 p.m. at Beckham Field. The game will be broadcast on SECN+. 


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