COLUMBIA — Jack Leggett needed a great effort from Dominic Leone Sunday afternoon.
He didn’t have much choice.
With Clemson’s bullpen taxed by Saturday’s 12-inning, 5-4, five-pitcher loss to South Carolina, Leggett leaned heavily on his junior starter, and Leone responded.
He battled through seven innings, throwing 127 pitches and keying a 5-3 NCAA Columbia regional win over Coastal Carolina.
The Tigers improved to 35-27, while the Chants ended their 2012 season at 42-19. Clemson advanced to a 4:30 p.m. game with the host and No.8 national seed Gamecocks, and must beat them twice to make next week’s super regionals.
“I wanted to throw strikes,” Leone said. “I told (pitching) coach (Dan) Pepicelli in the fifth or sixth to ride me and save the other guys for as long as I could go.
“My mindset was to take one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. Coastal is a good team, and they put the ball in play and made me work.”
Leone allowed three runs (two earned) over seven innings, striking out six and walking four while allowing six hits.
Leggett was impressed with Leone’s gutty effort.
“Dom was really good out there,” he said. “He battled for us and sucked it up, threw strikes and had good velocity on his fastball and had a good breaking ball.”
Leone overcame a shaky beginning.
In the first, he walked leadoff hitter Ted Blackman following a 10-pitch at-bat, and then gave up a single to center fielder Jacob May. Blackman – running on the play – wound up at third, and scored on Daniel Bowman’s sacrifice fly to right.
A pair of Jason Stolz home runs – the first two home-run game by a Clemson player this season – staked him to a 4-2 lead after four innings.
In the fifth, Leone followed a one-out single and walk by inducing a would-be double play grounder to short by Jacob May, but Steve Wilkerson’s throw went into the Coastal dugout, scoring Brian Pruett and cutting the lead to a run.
How did Leone respond? By striking out right fielder Daniel Bowman – a .400 hitter – to end the inning.
In the seventh, first baseman Jon McGibbon lost third baseman Rich Witten’s pop-up in the sun, leading to a double.
He was bunted to third, and after Leone walked catcher Tucker Frawley, he faced another key moment – runners at the corners, one out.
Again, Leone dug deep. He struck out second baseman Justin Creel on a 3-2 outside fastball, and got Tripp Martin to foul out to Spencer Kieboom, ending the threat.
“I really took a closer’s mentality,” he said. “I took one pitch at a time. I really wasn’t thinking ahead, ‘Let’s get two outs, what if a guy strikes out.’ I focused on the next pitch and the next pitch after that. It really helped; I couldn’t get ahead of myself, like I’ve done in the past, and it obviously worked out pretty well for me.”
Sunday was an emotional day for Leone, who left the team last week and flew to Connecticut following the sudden death of a cousin.
He joined the Tigers here Friday.
“It was tough,” he said. “I found out Sunday morning after we got back from the ACC Tournament and didn’t have much time to process it; I was on a plane that night. It was a tough week. The most comforting thing was having all my teammates surround me; they were very supportive.
“It was a release to get back in the dugout and get back to the baseball field and focus on baseball again. I had to think in the back of my mind not to let it affect my performance.”