Exhilarating win for Tigers just as cruel for Gamecocks
|Sunday, March 5, 2017, 9:10 PM- -|
Baseball can be exhilarating, and it can be cruel, and both sides were evident in a wild and wacky finish in Columbia Sunday afternoon.
Clemson’s baseball team took an exhilarating bus ride back to Clemson following the No. 12 Tigers’ improbable 5-3 victory over No. 4 South Carolina at Founders Park, giving them a 2-1 series win over their arch-rival for the third year in a row.
The teams played 29 innings, and Clemson wound up with 13 runs on just 23 hits. South Carolina ended up with 12 runs on 26 hits. One run difference in three games, but that one run turned out to be the biggest swing of the series, and it came from the best hitter in all of college baseball.
To set the stage: Three times in the game, the Gamecocks took a one-run lead, and three times Clemson came back to tie. The last time happened in the top of the ninth. The Gamecocks were clinging to a 3-2 lead, and reliever Josh Reagan got two quick outs.
Closer Tyler Johnson left Saturday’s game with soreness in his pitching arm, and he wasn’t available, so Reagan got the nod. Reagan isn’t a slouch – he still has an ERA of 1.54 after Sunday – and he’s a lefty so he was the perfect candidate to pitch to Clemson’s Seth Beer.
Reagan quickly fell behind 3-0, and it appeared as though Beer would walk for the fourth time on the afternoon. But Reagan rebounded with two quick strikes – both breaking balls – but instead of throwing a fastball low and away, Reagan lobbed in another breaking ball, and Beer hit a mammoth shot that tied the game.
The ball was crushed – it’s probably landed somewhere on Huger St. and then rolled all the way to the State House – and baseball was once again exhilarating for the Tigers. For Reagan and the Gamecocks, it was cruel.
Clemson head coach Monte Lee told reporters after the game that he didn’t disagree with the decision to pitch to Beer.
“You are kind of danged if you do and danged if you don't. That is the bottom line,” Lee said. “They have their best reliever on the mound in Reagan, and he was locating his pitches. If that breaking ball is down, or if he starts that breaking ball away from him and executes a pitch right there he could have gotten him to strike out or pop up. He could have gotten him out. I can't say that I second-guess that decision. But at the end of the day he got a pitch up in the zone, and he put a good swing on it.”
South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook said it was the right call.
“We just threw an offspeed pitch, and honestly, it was just to see if he would take a couple to get to 3-2. And that's kind of what happened,” Holbrook said. “You've got one chance, and you're one strike away, you are going to take your chances. I am not walking the winning run left on left (meaning he didn't want to put the winning run on base with a left on left matchup). If he hits a home run he ties it, he doesn't win it. That was the thought process there. He left the pitch up and a great player put a great swing on it.
“Sometimes baseball can be cruel, and sometimes it can be exhilarating. We are on the cruel end of it today. But it's not through any fault of my players or the way they competed. You have to give credit to Clemson with the big swing of the bat there with two outs and two strikes there in the ninth. That gave them new life, but we still had opportunities to win. We just couldn't get that big hit to fall.”
The cruel side of baseball wasn’t done with South Carolina. Not yet.
The teams remained knotted at 3-3 through the bottom of the ninth, into the 10th and finally the decisive 11th inning. Beer was once again a contributing factor.
Logan Davidson walked to lead off the inning, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Reed Rohlman. With the runner at third and a base open, the Gamecocks decided to walk Beer and set up the double play.
But Tyler Haswell’s pitched bounded in the dirt – on an intentional walk – and Davidson scored the go-ahead run. The Tigers would add another run and drive out of Columbia with a crucial, early-season series win.
“What an unbelievable ballgame. What an unbelievable weekend. Three games there were just as tight as they could possibly be. A lot emotion on both sides,” Lee said. “Today, it just boiled down to us finding a way to get it done. Both sides made mistakes, couldn't get bunts down and those types of things. But Seth Beer being Seth Beer, the best hitter in college baseball, gave us a chance. He gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame, down to our last strike. He hits a home run to tie it up. And we got extras, and both teams had opportunities. But we hung tough, and we found a way to get it done.
“I am very proud of my team. We threw a lot of guys in this ballgame that had great experiences, from being able to play in a tough environment against a great South Carolina team. This will help our team from a maturity standpoint. I think you could see the toughness our ballclub has, even when things are not going well. Our guys compete, every single pitch, every single inning. I am proud of they played and we won the series in the best rivalry in all of college baseball.”
Lee said baseball isn’t always fair, but Clemson will be glad to take the series.
“It's huge. It's huge for our program and huge for our team,” Lee said. “We had three very competitive ballgames this weekend. I actually thought the Friday night game we played a little better and lost. Yesterday, they had the upper hand for most of the ballgame, and we found a way to claw back into that ballgame. Today could have gone either way. But at the end of the day, we found a way to get it done, and it will make the bus ride home a lot nicer to be sure.”