NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There was something both familiar and unfamiliar about Clemson baseball’s season finale in Nashville Saturday: a 6-4 defeat to four-seed Xavier.
The Tigers (36-25) were on the wrong side of the score for the eighth time in their last 11 NCAA Tourney games – failing to advance out of the regional for a fourth season in a row.
This time, however, had a twist – going two-and-out for the first time in 27 appearances, leaving many questions and few answers for the program’s immediate future under hall of fame coach Jack Leggett.
“Am I fully confident that I’ll be back coaching next year?” Leggett said, repeating back a question before the media assembled postgame. “I’d like to think that’s a ridiculous question. I’ve coached for 21 years and have a track record that’s pretty good. So I’m sure we’ll sit down and talk about it."
Leggett answers for 'little disappointing' season
Clemson’s lineup squandered chances to tie it up or take the lead in both the seventh and ninth frames trailing late - both, ultimately, on fly-ball outs from junior center fielder Tyler Slaton’s bat.
Clemson righty Daniel Gossett (7-2) didn’t reach the seventh inning for the first time in 10 starts, but really of no fault of his own.
The Musketeers (30-28) struck first in the first by dropping a two-out run-scoring double between a Clemson shortstop Jay Baum retreating back into left field staring into the sun – and a left fielder Garrett Boulware who probably should’ve called him off.
Boulware righted the wrong in the fourth with a two-out double to left field, which Baum followed with another to drive him in and tie it up.
The two-out momentum continued in the fifth with a RBI single from right fielder Steven Duggar for Clemson to take its first lead in 12 innings. The Tigers had one run in their previous 21 innings going back to the ACC Tournament.
It didn’t last for long, however, as the Musketeers broke through for two in the bottom half of the inning – catcher Daniel Rizzie dropping a two-out RBI double in right center to put Xavier back on top.
Musketeers senior right-hander Scott Klever (7-6) kept Clemson’s leadoff man off base all game up to a first-pitch knock from McGibbon to right field in the seventh inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved him over, lightning was spotted – bringing on the lengthy delay and ending the day for both starters.
Klever scattered six hits over 6 1/3 with one strikeout and two walks.
Gossett went six complete, allowing nine hits with five strikeouts and no free passes.
Xavier 6, Clemson 4
“Goose was pitching well enough to win and we came out of the rain delay and somehow didn’t make some plays and put ourselves in a tough spot,” Leggett said.
Two errors – throwing, on reliever Drew Moyer, and fielding, on Boulware – led to a three-run seventh for the Musketeers.
Clemson second baseman Steve Wilkerson lifted a two-run homer out of the stadium in the eighth, but Tiger batters hoisted four fly-balls in their final six at-bats to reach their 27-out limit.
“We played OK today,” Leggett said, “but didn’t play good after the rain delay for some reason. We didn’t handle bunts well this weekend and that bothered me. It’s something we always emphasize – emphasize the offensive part of the game and the defensive part of the game.
“Those are the outs we have to grab. You can’t go into a situation like this and give them 28-29 outs – you’ll get yourself in trouble. We did that yesterday and we did today.”
This is Leggett’s first senior class not to reach a College World Series at Clemson.
“It’s frustrating, disappointing – this is not how I pictured this season at all,” Boulware said. “With the team we had last year and what’s coming back from last year, I was just expecting a lot more out of us, including myself.”
More postgame reaction
Opening statement: “It’s disappointing. I’m disappointed for our players, disappointed for our team. I think right now we just didn’t play well enough this weekend to deserve to stay to be honest with you. We just didn’t enough good things offensively, pitching-wise, defensively. We just somehow didn’t come here and play our best baseball. We put ourselves in tough positions, obviously yesterday, but we put ourselves in tough positions today. I thought we had a chance. Goose was pitching well enough to give ourselves a chance to win. We came out of the lightning delay and somehow didn’t make some plays we needed to make and put ourselves in a tough spot. So I’m disappointed for our team.”
On thinking about using closer Matt Campbell right after the lightning delay: “No. We don’t really want to extend him more than a one- or two-inning guy for us. We’ve had to go a little bit longer. We felt like Moyer could hold us the seventh inning together and Bates could hold the eighth inning together – they’ve done a pretty good job of that lately. Things being right, we’d have Campbell at the end. We just got into a little bit of a bunting game. We couldn’t make a play to begin the inning. Then we couldn’t handle the bunt. Then they got a hit with a man on second and third. Once they did that, it opened up the floodgates.”
On the first time a Clemson senior class under Leggett has not reached the College World Series: “There are not many schools in the country that can say that. That’s something we’ve been proud of. It is unfortunate. I would have loved to see our seniors get to Omaha. I’m disappointed for them. We just got to get back at it next year and try to get this next group of seniors out there.”
Left fielder Garrett Boulware
On error in left field: “I wanted to throw the guy out at the plate and I just rushed it. I came up too soon. It’s been hopping all weekend and I was expecting the same bounce and it stayed down. I should have slowed myself down and focused a bit more on the ball and not on the runner trying to score.”
On the season: “It was disappointing. We had a lot of guys come back from the team last year and I just expected more out of us.”
On the impact of the delay on the offense: “I don’t think it had any effect. It effected our pitching. Obviously we wanted [Daniel Gossett] to stay in the game as long as possible. Offensively we were ready to come out and score runs. We were prepared and staying loose in the locker room, we were ready to go.”
Starting pitcher Daniel Gossett
On being pulled after the delay: “Yeah I would have liked to have come out, things were going my way. I was at 100 pitches and I was ready to compete. Right at the delay coach came up to me and told me I was done. I expected that, he wants to protect me.”
On the season: “We were always really close. Always on the brink of breaking loose and it just never happened. It is disappointing to see a team with so much talent get put down in two games in the regional. We just weren’t able to turn it on at the right time.”