CLEMSON - When it was all said and done, Clemson's combination of power at the plate and out of the bullpen proved to be too much for even destiny-laden Arkansas to overcome.
B.J. LaMura pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings of dominating relief and Michael Johnson crashed a solo home run in the eighth inning to snap a 4-4 tie, propelling Clemson to a 7-4 victory in the NCAA Super Regional championship game Sunday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
The win advances the Tigers to the College World Series (June 14-22) in Omaha, Neb., for the second time in three years.
"We have an ultimate goal in mind when we get to Omaha, and we kept our chances of keeping that goal alive by winning today," said Clemson head coach Jack Leggett. "Arkansas gave us a tremendous battle. They were scrappy and they played us real tough."
Johnson's blast came on a 2-0 pitch from Razorbacks' reliever Scott Roehl (4-1). It was his 23rd homer of the season, but far and away his most important. It also provided redemption for a previous error which allowed Arkansas' first run to score.
"The pitch was a fastball," Johnson said. "But being the leadoff man, I was just trying to hit a ball hard and get on base...It was good to be able to put a run up after (the error). It's a good feeling. I don't know how to explain it any (better) than that."
Clemson added insurance runs in the ninth on two-out, back-to-back solo homers from Zane Green and Khalil Greene.
Khalil Greene's blast, a laser to dead centerfield, touched off a wild celebration in front of the Clemson dugout. As he crossed home plate into the waiting arms of his teammates, the normally stoic Greene took off both batting gloves and flung them into the stands in celebration.
Afterwards, he said he simply was carrying out the plan.
"I was trying to hit a home run there, to be honest with you," he said with just a hint of a grin. "I said beforehand if I hit one out in my last at-bat, I would throw the batting gloves into the stands. So I was just following through."
"Clemson maybe had too much firepower for us," said Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn. "Hats off to them for doing the job they did."
The power outburst left LaMura to protect a three-run lead in the ninth, and he responded.
LaMura (6-2) struck out Scott Hode looking and Kirk McConnell swinging for the first two outs. He ended it by inducing Andrew Wishy to fly out to Zane Green in deep left.
The final out touched off the expected celebration of piled-up bodies in the middle of the infield, but more importantly seem to solidify the idea that LaMura is over his midseason struggles and now - on the heels of Saturday night's save - appears to be Leggett's hammer out of the bullpen.
"It feels good to have been able to pitch well this weekend," LaMura said. "I knew I had to throw strikes and be aggressive. The only real difference (between Saturday and Sunday) was that I had to prolong my effort because I knew I'd be in the game longer."
"We were hoping he'd be able to finish it for us," Leggett said. "As long as he's throwing strikes, he's effective. Today he did a great job. He got some big strikeouts when he needed them. He challenged their hitters and did an outstanding job."
LaMura's Sunday pitching line totaled one hit allowed in his 4 1/3 innings, while striking out six and hitting a pair of batters.
He relieved Patrick Hogan, who came on in the fifth to get two outs for starter Tyler Lumsden. The freshman lefthander allowed four runs, three earned, in four-plus innings.
Clemson found itself trailing 3-0 after four innings. Johnson's error with a runner on second gave Arkansas its first run in the second, then in the fourth Michael Conner's solo homer and Clay Goodwin's RBI single pushed the lead to 3-0.
The Tigers finally got untracked in the fifth inning. David Slevin's run-scoring single to centerfield - a ball that Arkansas shortstop Hode appeared to have tracked for an inning-ending double play - started the rally. Khalil Greene later tied it with a two-out, two-run double to left-center. He then scored on Jeff Baker's single for a 4-3 lead.
The Razorbacks tied it on Conner's RBI single in the bottom of the fifth off Hogan. But LaMura came on with two outs and two on to strike out Nick Pitts, ending the rally and setting up Clemson's late-inning fireworks.
- Clemson will open CWS play against Nebraska, an 11-6 winner over Richmond Sunday. The day of the game - either Friday or Saturday - will be determined today. Clemson is expected to leave for Omaha sometime Tuesday.
- Greene's three RBI Sunday give him 86 on the year, breaking the school record of 84 set by Eric Macrina in 1991. His homer also gives him the single-season school record of 26, one ahead of teammate Baker.
- DeBriyn benched three lefthanded hitting starters in deference to Lumsden's start Sunday, playing the percentages with a righthanded-heavy batting order. All three - McConnell, Wishy and Scott Bridges - eventually entered the game.
- Roehl's availability was questionable until gametime because of tendonitis in his right shoulder. He pitched four innings and allowed just three hits, but two of those were solo homers by Johnson and Zane Green.