With the nation watching, Tigers show their stuff in victory over No. 1 Tar Heels

Jack Leggett and Mike Fox have combined for nearly 2,500 victories: they know a classic when they play one

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett goes over the ground rules with UNC head coach Mike Fox

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett goes over the ground rules with UNC head coach Mike Fox

After the final out had been secured in the bottom of the 11th inning, Mike Fox walked slowly from the North Carolina dugout, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and, upon meeting Jack Leggett at home plated, shook his hand and broke into a wide grin.

Leggett responded in kind.

Combined, Leggett and Fox have spent 65 years as head college coaches. They've won 2,455 games, and they've lost 1,116.

They know a classic when they play one.

For 11 innings Monday night, neither the top-ranked Tar Heels nor the Tigers would give an inch.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a bigger game for Clemson than for North Carolina. The Tar Heels, sailing along with a 25-1 record, atop of the 2013 polls since the get-go, were going for a sweep. Fox knows that in baseball, you don't win 'em all. But that didn't stop him from pushing every button at his disposal in trying to win this one, including making seven pitching changes.

Clemson was playing for pride, certainly; but the Tigers, having dropped three games in a row and four of their last five since winning the first two games of its series against, needed a boost.

They got it from Scott Firth. And Matthew Crownover. And Kyle Schnell. And Garrett Boulware and Thomas Brittle and Tyler Krieger and Shane Kennedy, just to name a few.

The game played out, and on into extra innings, as a high drama affair - both teams threatening, both teams - for the most part - wriggling out of trouble.

The winning run scored with one out in the top of the 11th on a bases-loaded, slow grounder to shortstop by Boulware - so slow that when UNC's Michael Russell fielded the ball, he had no chance to force third-base runner Jay Baum, who waltzed home to put the Tigers on top.

Firth - a hard-luck loser of four straight as a starter - finished off the game, despite hitting the leadoff batter and giving up a bunt-single on an attempted sacrifice. UNC's next sacrifice bunt attempted ended up a short pop-up that Boulware corralled just behind the batter's box. Then Colin Moran, who had put UNC on top early with a two-run homer, drove the ball to the warning track, moving the runners to second and third.

The game ended when Baum fielded Skye Bolt's grounder to second and threw to Jon McGibbon for the final out.

"Matthew Crownover pitched well at the beginning, and then Scotty Firth came in and did the job at the end," said Leggett. "And Kyle Schnell did a nice job. We made some big defensive plays when we had to, and we skirted some danger.

"We should have come up with more than one run at the end and made things a little bit easier for us."

Firth (3-4) got the win by working 4.2 scoreless innings. A nominee for national closer of the year coming into the season, First appeared comfortable and confident in returning to his old role.

"We switched things up and put Crownover as our third starter, and put Scott at the back of the game," Leggett said. "It worked out well for this one."

Monday's performance - against the nation's No. 1 team in a nationally-televised game - had the feel of a turning-point performance for the Tigers.

That will depend, of course, on what happens next.

Clemson will be at home on Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb, and then will head to Boston for a three-game series against a Boston College team that has spent most of the first half of a so-far winless ACC season on the road.

After wrapping up a stretch of 8-of-10 games on the road next Tuesday against Western Carolina, the Tigers, now 17-11 overall and 6-6 in the ACC, will settle in at home for three of their next four conference series.

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Comments » 1

bizzzz writes:

Crownover has looked better every outing. Firth should stay in the bull pen looks like.
Go Tigers

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