Saturday, May 31, 2014 6:39 PM
Xavier bounces error-prone Tigers out of NCAA Tournament
by David Hood
Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, TN – National pundits said Monday that Clemson might have been the last team picked for the 64-team NCAA Tournament field. During the NCAA at Vanderbilt Friday and Saturday, they played like a team that didn’t deserve even a “last team in” distinction.

Two outfield miscues and a long lightning delay that cost the Tigers the services of starter Daniel Gossett after six innings were Clemson’s undoing in another head-scratching, embarrassing loss as fourth-seeded Xavier (30-28) defeated Clemson 6-4 at Hawkins Field Saturday afternoon.

Fresh off of an 18-1 loss to Oregon Friday, the Tigers depended on Gossett to send them into Sunday’s play, but a lighting delay in the seventh robbed them of Gossett with Clemson trailing 3-2. Two Clemson relievers then gave up four runs - helped by bad defense – and the Tigers couldn’t muster enough of a comeback.

The 0-2 record in the regionals marks the first time Clemson failed to win a game in the regionals in the last 26 appearances.

"It's disappointing, disappointing for our players, disappointing for our team," Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. "We just didn't play well enough this weekend to deserve to stay to be honest with you. We did enough good things offensively. Pitching-wise, defensively somehow we just didn't come to play our best baseball."

Gossett (7-2) gave up a run in the first after a miscommunication between left fielder Garrett Boulware and shortstop Jay Baum allowed a ball to drop in for a run-scoring double and a 1-0 Musketeer lead.

The Tigers finally scratched against Xavier in the fourth when Boulware and Baum hit back-to-back doubles. Baum’s double bounced off the big left field wall and Boulware scored the tying run. The Tigers eventually had runners at second and third in the inning, but a fly out ended the inning.

The Tigers went ahead in the fifth – again with two out – starting with one of the stranger plays of the day. Krieger lined a ball off of the Xavier pitcher and when the ball rolled into the outfield, turned the liner into a hustle double. Steven Duggar followed that with a soft single into left-center that scored Krieger for the 2-1 lead.

The Musketeers used a single, a bunt and another single to tie the score in the bottom of the inning, and got a two-out double in the gap to take a 3-2 lead.

Jon McGibbon drew a one-out walk in the seventh, and Leggett sent in Mike Dunster to pinch hit for Weston Wilson. With a 1-2 count on Dunster, the umpires interrupted play because of lightning in the area, and Gossett’s day was done after a delay of 1:48 with no lighting and only a few drops of rain.

Gossett’s final line showed three earned runs in his six innings of work, and he struck out five while walking none. He also threw an astounding 71 of 99 pitches for strikes. He was replaced on the mound by Drew Moyer.

Dunster grounded out and Slaton flied out once play resumed, and Dunster lasted just one batter in the field before having to leave after diving for a ground ball single. He was replaced by freshman Eli White.

Moyer threw wild on an attempted bunt to put runners at first and second, and another bunt put runners at second and third with one out. Mitch Elliott promptly lined a single into left field that scooted under Boulware’s glove and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing both runs to score and Elliott to advance all the way to third. A wild pitch by Clay Bates, who replaced Moyer, scored Elliott for a 6-2 Musketeer lead and the Clemson implosion was in full effect.

"I wanted to throw the guy out at home and I rushed it," Boulware said. "I came up too soon. It had been hopping a little this weekend and I was kind of expecting to see the same bounce and it didn't that time. Obviously, I should have slowed myself down and focused more on the ball."

Moyer’s stat line was indicative of the kind of day it was – he gave up three runs on just four pitches, even though just one was earned.

Steve Wilkerson hit a long two-run homer to right in the bottom of the eighth – his sixth of the year – but the Tigers couldn’t manage a comeback in the ninth.

The Tigers finished the season with a 36-25 record.

David Hood can be reached at davidhood@tigernet.com