An Unexpected Hero Gives Tigers an ACC Title

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Clemson’s Sean Clark didn’t even have a chance to get nervous.

The red-shirt junior, who had not started a game all season and had pitched just 10.1 innings the entire year, was told just a few hours prior to Sunday’s ACC Championship game against N.C. State that he would get the ball.

Clark made the most of his opportunity. The junior college transfer from Arizona shut down a potent Wolfpack team by going eight solid innings in an 8-4 Clemson victory at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

Clark’s performance earned him a spot on the all-tournament team and lifted Clemson to its first ACC Championship since 1994.

“Coach (Jack Leggett) told me this morning so I really didn’t have time to get nervous,” he said. “So I just went out there and had fun.”

So much fun, Clark baffled the N.C. State batters, holding them to four hits, while striking out five.

“That’s just a special moment as a coach,” Leggett said. “When you give a guy an opportunity and he makes the most of that opportunity, it makes you feel good.

“Sean went out there today and did a great job. He was given an opportunity and he decided he was going to do something about it and that’s why we are here.”

Leggett said he had several players on his squad he thought about going with, but it was a brief outing against Wake Forest on May 20 that helped the coaching staff decide on Clark.

“When he came out a few weeks and we watched him pitch, I thought, ‘hey maybe we missed something here,’” he said. “So we watched him for a few weeks and decided he was ready and we got him in there.”

The Tigers (47-14) maybe got him in a little too fast for N.C. State coach Elliot Avent.

“Jack told me this morning he was going to pitch him,” Avent said. “But what Jack didn’t tell me was that he could pitch like that.”

Clemson left fielder Tyler Colvin, who was named as the tournament’s MVP, had a feeling when Clark was given the call that he would pitch the game of his life.

“I was saying to everybody ‘he is probably going to throw a gem, he is going to throw good.’ He did good,” Colvin said. “I knew we were done with all of our starters so we needed to give Sean a chance.”

Before coming to Clemson in 2005, Clark played two seasons at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona where he earned an 8-3 record and a 2.62 ERA in 13 starts in 2004. He also had five complete games.

“I have always been a starter and I have always thrown,” Clark said. “Coming off an arm injury, it was hard to get back in that. I was glad to be given a shot and I knew I could do it, and I went out there and did it.”

Clark didn’t play in 2005 at Clemson because he had to rehab his throwing shoulder.

“He has worked hard all season long and he deserved the opportunity,” Leggett said. “The players have confidence in him and the coaches have confidence in him.

“He hasn’t had the opportunity to pitch that much because we have a great pitching staff. But he never complained and when a guy is unselfish like that and when he gets his opportunity and he comes through for the team – that’s what this coaching thing is all about.”

It is also about teaching players to overcome adversity and persevering even when things get tough. After starting the ACC regular season with three straight loses to Virginia, the Tigers bounced back to win 24 conference games and then played three dramatic games against Georgia Tech in the tournament, including a semifinal game that ended at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

“I’m proud of the way this team has played and the way they kept their focus,” Leggett said. “To come down here and win this tournament and play through all the things we did with little rest.

“I’m just proud to be able to bring back an ACC Championship to our fans, our athletic department and our school.”

It wasn’t Clemson that looked un-rested in the championship game. Though tired from their long day on Saturday against Georgia Tech, the Tigers appeared to be the hungrier team from the start Sunday.

“It was really though because we got just six hours sleep and then we had to get right back out here and get back in the sun,” Colvin said. “It wasn’t like (the ACC) gave us any of those games. Those (Georgia Tech) games were tough.

“This morning I knew I was dragging, but we had to stick it out and come out on top.”

Despite not getting a single hit once they loaded the bases with a Stan Widmann single in the fourth, the Tigers manufactured four runs and never looked back. All four of those runs came as a result of two Matt Mangini errors at third base.

With one out, D.J. Mitchell hit a one-hopper to Mangini who missed the bag at third and then threw home, but he hit Colvin in the back as Colvin went into a slide for home. After Adrian Casanova struck out for the second out of the inning, Herman Demmink hit a routine ground ball to third, but Mangini dropped the ball while attempting to get the ball out of his glove, allowing Demmink to reach safely and Andy D’Alessio to score for a 2-0 lead.

Brad Chalk and Marquez Smith then followed by drawing back-to-back walks, plating Widmann and Mitchell for the 4-0 advantage.

The Tigers finally took control of the game in the top of the seventh when they put up a four spot on the scoreboard with two outs. After Widmann walked in a Smith drawn walk, Colvin ripped a single to right field, scoring Demmink and Chalk for a 7-0 lead. Harbin later singled home Smith with an infield hit for the innings final run.

N.C. State (38-21) was able to get some runs on the board when Drew Fiorenza came in relief of Clark in the ninth inning. The Wolfpack scored four runs on RBI singles from Matt Camp, Aaron Cone and Jonathan Diaz before P.J. Zocchi came in to close the door and record the save.

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