FSU scores late, Tigers miss too many opportunities in ACC semifinals


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Jordan Greene applies a tag early against FSU (Photo by David Grooms)
Jordan Greene applies a tag early against FSU (Photo by David Grooms)

DURHAM, NC – Wasted opportunities, an ejection and a critical stolen base in the ninth cost second-seeded Clemson Saturday night.

The Tigers left eight runners on base and Florida St. scored the go-ahead run in the ninth in defeating Clemson 5-4 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Noles will face Louisville for the ACC Championship Sunday at noon. Clemson left nine runners on base, including the bases loaded in the eighth.

Clemson falls to 45-14 and will await their fate when the NCAA Tournament selections are announced Monday. Florida St. improves to 42-17.

Clemson head coach Monte Lee said the Tigers inability to score runs when they had the opportunity is ultimately what caused them the game.

"But the bottom line, I think the biggest difference was we had the opportunity to score some runs and we just didn't do it," Lee said during his postgame interview. "We didn't come up with the sac fly or a base hit with runners on base in a couple different situations, and that was really the difference in the ballgame. There was a couple little things that we needed to do a better job of, but for the most part, our pitching staff I felt like did a great job. We played a good game defensively, but the bottom line is we've got to do a better job with runners on base. We struck out entirely too much.

"But again, you're facing a guy like Sands. Sands is probably going to be taken in the first two rounds of the draft, and Van Eyk is going to be special. I think that it was great for our guys and for our team to play in this type of game and this type of atmosphere going into next week and to be put in those pressure situations that they were put in tonight. I don't know if anything could prepare our guys for next weekend more than tonight's game, but Florida State, give them credit. They were a little bit better than us tonight. They've got a great club but we've got a great club, too. We'll get better from this. I'm proud of the way that our guys fought, but Florida State was a little bit better."

The Seminoles jumped on Clemson starter Jake Higginbotham early. Steven Wells drew a one-out walk and Drew Mendoza launched a full-count fastball over the wall in left-center for a two-run homer and a 2-0 Florida St. lead. The homer was the seventh of the season for Mendoza.

Higginbotham worked out of trouble in each of the next two innings, stranding a runner at third in the third and at second in the fourth, waiting for his offense to get on the board.

The Tigers answered in the bottom of the fourth. Kyle Wilkie led off with a single up the middle that bounced off the second base bag. Seth Beer walked on a 3-2 count, setting the stage for more Chris Williams’ heroics. Williams hit the third pitch he saw over the wall in left for his 16th homer of the season and a 3-2 Clemson lead. Wilkie’s single gives him a 25-game hitting streak.

The Tigers had a chance to add to the lead in the sixth. Beer walked with one out and Williams just missed his second homer of the game, the ball hitting off the lip of the wall for a double. With runners at second and third with one out, Cromwell struck out and Wharton flew out to center to end the inning.

Higginbotham walked Mendoza to lead off the seventh, and the second batter was out on a weak grounder to second. With Mendoza at second with one out, Lee brought in Carson Spiers, who induced a groundout from JC Flowers for the second out. Rafael Bournigal walked and Spiers promptly threw a wild pitch that scored Mendoza with the tying run.

Higginbotham didn’t have his best stuff but turned in a gutsy performance, pitching 6 1/3 innings, giving up three runs (all earned) on four hits. He walked three and struck and five in throwing 113 pitches.

Grayson Byrd reached on an error by the second baseman to start the bottom of the seventh. Byrd, battling a leg injury, was replaced by Adam Renwick, who promptly took second on a ball in the dirt. FSU starter Cole Sands battled to a 2-2 count on Sam Hall but was quickly replaced by C.J. Van Eyk. Van Eyk struck out Hall on one pitch, but his second pitch to Jordan Greene went to the wall and Renwick moved to third with one out.

Lee was quick to praise both pitching staffs for an outstanding game.

"Well, give Florida State a lot of credit. They played a heck of a ballgame tonight," Lee said. "I thought Cole Sands, we knew coming into the game that Cole Sands has great stuff and can really pitch. Had three pitches going tonight, and I thought he did an outstanding job. And then they turned it over to Van Eyk. Van Eyk is one of the most talented arms in our league. That's a tough mix. That's a tough mix for an offense, Sands and Van Eyk.

"But our guys threw the ball very, very well, too. Jake Higginbotham gave us a great start. I thought he threw very, very well, and our bullpen was fine. Ryley did a heck of a job in the situation he was in with the bases loaded to get out of that situation the way he did, to make the pitches he made, and Chris Williams had a big night for us with the big inning there, hit the three-run homer in the fourth."

Van Eyk walked Greene on four pitches, bringing up Logan Davidson with one out and runners at the corners. Davidson walked on five pitches and the bases were loaded for Wilkie. Wilkie struck out on three pitches up in the zone for the second out, but Beer walked on five pitches to force in the go-ahead run and put the Tigers back in front at 4-3. However, Williams struck out looking for the final out.

It didn’t take the Seminoles long to tie the score. Jackson Lueck smashed a 2-2 pitch from Spiers deep into the right-center field seats for his 15th homer of the season, tying the game at 4-4. Spiers was replaced by Ryley Gilliam. Spiers pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up one run on one hit, walking one and throwing one critical wild pitch.

Things then got wild and weird. Gilliam hit Rhett Aplin with a pitch and Cal Raleigh reached on an infield single. Wells walked on a 3-2 pitch, and Lee and home plate umpire David Savage began a back-and-forth exchange that lasted for most of Mendoza’s at-bat. One close pitch on Mendoza brought Lee screaming out of the dugout and Savage threw him out of the game, but not before Lee threw his clipboard in anger and getting a piece of the umpire before leaving.

Gilliam and the Tigers responded in a big way. Gilliam struck out the next two hitters and got Flowers to end the inning on a grounder to third.

The Tigers put two more runners on base in the eighth, but Greene hit a grounder to third to send the game into the ninth tied at 4-4.

The Noles’ took the lead in the ninth. Lueck walked with two out and took second with ease. Aplin singled up the middle on a 2-2 count to score Lueck and make it 5-4 Seminoles.

Wilkie was hit by a pitch with one out in the ninth, but Beer flew out to left for the second out and Williams struck out to end the game.




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