CLEMSON – No one could really blame the Tiger dugout for being down in the ninth inning Saturday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
They trailed 9-4, coming off some late missed opportunities and hadn’t had a ninth-inning rally all season (0-for-20). Clemson left fielder-turned-catcher midgame Garrett Boulware admitted he was a “skeptic.” He wasn’t alone, as many of the 3,961 attendees had already exited.
Tigers walk off with series win
But before long, junior shortstop Jay Baum made believers of them all in a dramatic 13th-inning win over Boston College, 10-9, to clinch the series in a four hour and 48-minute marathon.
Leading off the ninth, center fielder Tyler Slaton powered a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall. The next Tiger batter walked – and one out in, senior second baseman Steve Wilkerson staved off defeat by beating out a potential double play at first.
From there, the clutch plays kept rolling – loading the bases, B-HP product Andrew Cox drew an RBI walk to bring the winning run to the plate. It wasn’t going to be quite that easy, however, but senior first baseman Jon McGibbon – making his first start since March 18 – battled BC reliever Matt King and sent a 2-2 pitch to the right field gap to complete a rally from a seven-run deficit and send it to extras.
Senior Clemson closer Matt Campbell had been on since the top of the ninth and stranded runners in scoring position in the 10th and 11th. He was feeling tired with each pitch thrown, but with a taxed Tiger bullpen, his pitching coach wasn’t letting him off the hook. Campbell (4-0) went on to 1-hit the Eagles and complete five scoreless frames, with five strikeouts.
“I guess (fatigue) set in the 11th inning,” he said. “I tried to tell coach (Dan Pepicelli) I was a little tired and running out of gas and he told me ‘to bear down and give me some more.’ I was just throwing on pure adrenaline. The last inning I was just throwing and hoping it was a strike.”
And his teammates knew that, the sense of urgency was apparent – Clemson breaking through for a two-out single in the 13th off from Boulware’s bat.
“Campbell was coming out, he threw 80 pitches – he hasn’t thrown that in four years,” Boulware said. “Coming out in the bottom of the 13th, I (had) to score this run.”
Down 0-2 in the count, Baum peppered the same gap McGibbon did five innings prior.
“It just happened to be in the right spot and it happened to be two outs so (Boulware) was on the move,” Clemson head and third-base coach Leggett said. “As soon as it’s hit, I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be close.’ I was gauging him around base and then he cut the ball off with his backhand and caught it cleanly. Matt Campbell – I didn’t want to throw him back out there – 80 pitches under his belt – we had to win.”
“I felt like there was a freakin’ fridge on my back running around second base – I was trying go as fast as I could,” Boulware said.
Barreling around third, Boulware tumbled to the plate before the throw – and almost with him the whole way, Leggett raised both arms as he proceeded into one of two Tiger dogpiles on the diamond.
On the line in the late going? A NCAA Tournament bid that all but for an ACC championship run in Greensboro wasn’t going to come. Also waiting on them with a loss was a single-elimination ACC Tournament game for the season come Tuesday.
Instead, Clemson (34-22, 15-14 ACC) earned a top-five seed in a round-robin pool with Miami (40-15, 24-6), Duke (32-23, 16-14) and the play-in winner between Wake Forest (30-25, 15-15) and Georgia Tech (32-24, 14-16).
“To come back from that big (a deficit) and how fired up we are – we are going to do something in the ACC Tournament,” Baum said.
“It just shows the character of this team that they’re never going to give up,” said Leggett. “Our guys battled and scored five runs with two outs there.”
The Eagles jumped out to a first-inning lead in all three games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, making Tigers starter Jake Long (3-4) throw 33 pitches – giving up three runs on four hits.
By the fourth frame, Clemson had four hits to two runs to five errors in a 14-inning stretch in the series.
The Eagles added scores in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but broke things open in the seventh for three – all with two outs. Six of BC’s nine runs scored Saturday came with two down.
Clemson’s run support appeared to be just a little bit late, breaking through for a pair of scores in the seventh. BC starter Jeff Burke left after 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits with a pair of strikeouts.
Eagles pitcher John Gorman took his second loss in three days (3-8), a No. 1 starter who left Thursday’s game early.
Clemson won its first ACC home series since sweeping the opener over Virginia Tech (March 7-9).
The ACC Tournament schedule will be announced Sunday.