Clemson freshman Kevin Bradley entered Tuesday with only five hits on the season, batting .132, but with one swing, he left Doug Kingsmore Stadium another one of the Tigers’ young heroes this season.
Trailing 7-5 to USC Upstate in the ninth inning, Bradley, with two runners on and one out, lifted a long flyball opposite field just over the left field wall for his first career home run, for No. 17 Clemson to walk off with an 8-7 win.
Bradley became the third true freshman with a walkoff hit this season, joining shortstop Tyler Krieger and right fielder Steven Duggar, for the Tigers’ eighth-straight victory.
But it wasn’t before a stressful outing for Clemson coach Jack Leggett.
All seemed well early with third baseman Shane Kennedy extending his team-best hitting streak to nine games, as one of five consecutive Tigers to reach in the second inning. Second baseman Steve Wilkerson capped the four-run frame with a two-RBI single.
Clemson freshman righty Brody Koerner earned his first win last week – wild at times – but throwing six innings of one-hit ball. Tuesday, he was just wild.
After one groundball out, nine-straight Spartans (25-26) reached base, scoring six runs – two by hit batter. The big blow came on a three-RBI triple, where Clemson center fielder Thomas Brittle initially broke in and watched helplessly as it floated over his head to the center field wall.
Three pitchers later, the Tigers (38-15) finally got out of the jam, but not before five earned runs were tagged to Koerner in a 31-pitch inning. He hadn’t given up more than two in his career. Senior reliever Jonathan Meyer stranded the bases loaded.
The lefty-heavy Clemson lineup then went silent, facing a ninth left-handed starter – USC Upstate’s Chris Cox – in the last 16 games. He allowed just two hits in his final four frames.
Cox left after seven innings, with four strikeouts and a lone earned run, and his departure opened the door for the Tigers.
Meyer kept Clemson in it, holding the line in 3 2/3 innings of work, striking out four batters and leaving seven Spartans aboard without a run allowed.
That setup a controversial eighth.
Designated hitter Maleeke Gibson, 0-for-4 into the eighth inning, broke through for an RBI single, and with two aboard and two out, Duggar appeared to beat a throw to first base on a groundball with ease – only to be called out by the first base umpire Jay Furlong. Clemson’s Leggett charged from the third base coaches’ box to argue, but it was to no avail.
USC Upstate answered with an insurance run in the ninth, making for a bleak picture at the Doug.
In the bottom half, Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware’s first hit, a leadoff infield single, got the rally the started, while Krieger walked on four pitches to setup the Bradley first-pitch shot.
Clemson first baseman Jon McGibbon, second on the team in RBIs (37), didn’t play due to illness, making way for Bradley’s insertion into the lineup.
Tigers reliever Scott Firth earned the win (6-4) by limiting damage in the ninth, while Spartans righty reliever Chad Sobotka fell to 0-4.
With the Atlantic Division on the line, Clemson heads to Tallahassee, Fla., for a series with No. 9 Florida State starting Thursday. The Tigers sit a game back, while No. 5 N.C. State trails by a game and a half on the road at Duke.
Note on Bradley's HR from Clemson SID
Tuesday, freshman Kevin Bradley hit a three run, walk-off home run to give Clemson a 8-7 win over USC Upstate. He became the first Clemson player to make his first career home run a walk-off round tripper since Brian Kowitz did it against Georgia on Feb. 25, 1988.
Bradley is the fifth player in Clemson history to make his first career home run a walk-off. The others to do it are Calvin Weeks vs. East Tennessee State, March 15 of 1969, Mike Ward vs. Virginia Tech, March 21, 1969, Billy Weems vs. Toledo on March 24, 1977, and Kowitz.
It is interesting to note that Weeks and Ward achieved this feat just six days apart.
Special mention is deserved for Bill Barnett in 1953. Barnett hit three home runs vs. Furman on April 22, 1953, the first three home runs of his career and the final one in the 14th inning was the game winner in a 13-12 Clemson victory. While his game winner came on the first day he hit a home run for Clemson, it was actually his third career home run. He had hit his first in the sixth inning of that same game.