|by David Hood|
The Ducks bunted. They stole bases, five in all. They ran the bases with abandon. They hit home runs. They played stellar defense. They also scored 18 runs on 20 hits in a 18-1 demolition of Clemson Clemson (36-24) in the first round of the NCAA Regional in Nashville, sending Clemson to the loser’s bracket where they will face the loser of Friday night’s finale between Xavier and Vanderbilt.
"Obviously a rough day for us," Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. "We just started out pretty good and 4th, 5th, 6th I think that is where we ran into trouble controlling their bunt game, run game, and that kind of thing. We just were not able to defend as well as we needed to at that point. The bottom line is they outhit us, outpitched us, outplayed us. The good thing is, regardless of the score, it is just one game."
The loss wasn’t the worst for Clemson in the postseason in the program’s history – that happened back in 1999 when Missouri St. defeated Clemson 23-5 in the opener of the regional in Fayetteville, Arkansas. However, Clemson came back and won that regional, defeating Delaware 17-3, host Arkansas 12-4, and swept Missouri State 8-7 and 7-5.
If the Tigers expect a similar miracle in 2014, they will have to bounce back from Friday’s crushing defeat that saw the Tigers fail to run the bases with precision, fail to hit with runners in scoring position and saw the defense once again let them down.
In fact, the 18 runs were the most runs scored by an Oregon team in the postseason, topping the 11 they scored in an 11-0 win over Rice last season.
The Tigers also lost by a 22-4 count to Georgia back in 2006.
"My message to the team is it's over," Leggett said. "You could have lost 5-3, 7-1, lost on a walk-off, there are a number of ways to lose badly and feel bad. This is embarrassing and not the way you want to lose a ballgame, but at same time we would have loved to have won the game but [we] didn't win the game so we got to put the loss behind us right now and be ready to play tomorrow."
The Tigers managed to get to Oregon (43-18) starter Tommy Thorpe in the first – Tyler Slaton led off the game with a walk and reached second on a sacrifice by Tyler Krieger. One out later, Steve Wilkerson lined a 3-2 pitch into center to score Slaton. Garrett Boulware followed that up with a double into the left field corner that appeared to score Wilkerson, but the ball rolled into the bullpen and the umpires sent Wilkerson back to third. Jay Baum fouled out to end the inning with Clemson leading 1-0.
At that point, it all fell apart.
Oregon picked up three runs in the bottom of the third – using the bunt, stolen bases and two Clemson errors – to take a 3-1 lead.
The Ducks added to the lead in the bottom of the fourth, playing small ball to perfection again in jumping out to a 4-1 lead. Shaun Chase then broke the game wide open by launching a three-run homer to left center – his 13th of the season- that made it 7-1. The next batter then hit a solo shot to right and Crownover’s day was done.
Crownover pitched 3 2/3 innings, giving up eight earned runs on 10 hits, striking out seven and walking one in his 87 pitches.
"Give them credit," Crownover said. "I threw a couple of pitches I would like to have back today, and they took advantage of them."
Once Crownover departed, however, things didn’t improve as the Tigers emptied out the back part of the bullpen in an effort to save the frontline guys for later in the weekend.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org