NO.12 CLEMSON SOFTBALL POSTS BIG TOURNAMENT WINS OVER NO.15 TENNESSEE & NO.5 WASHINGTON
- 2022-02-21 14:36:12
For the second straight week, the Lady Tigers returned to the Sunshine State for an early-season tournament. This time, it was for the Saint Pete Classic, and the stakes were higher with much stiffer competition. Last weekend, they were at the Florida Gulf Coast University tournament where they went 3-1 with 3 blowout wins and their lone loss coming to No.10 Texas.
In the Saint Pete Classic, the Lady Tigers went 3-2 with wins over Texas Tech, No.15 Tennessee and No.5 Washington while dropping a Big Ten doubleheader against No.23 Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The Tigers opened the tournament against Texas Tech on Thursday and cruised to an 8-0 victory in 5 innings. It was their fourth 5 or 6-inning mercy rule shutout of the season already. Valerie Cagle got the win from the circle, and the Tigers scored 8 runs on just 6 hits.
The next game on Friday against No.15 Tennessee was the Tigers' first nail-biter of the young season. With a 3-2 lead going into the 7th, the Vols hit a leadoff HR to tie the game, and it would go to extra innings, 9 to be exact. The Tigers escaped with a 4-3 victory over the Vols and a much-needed ranked non-conference win for some early-season respect. The Tigers found a way to win despite going 1-13 with runners in scoring position. Valerie Cagle once again pitched a complete game, throwing 143 pitches over the 9 innings. A throwing error by Tennessee with 2 outs allowed the winning run to cross the plate in the emotional walk-off victory.
The Tigers had a quick turnaround on Saturday morning after the emotional extra-inning win the night before, and they had to face a No.23 Northwestern team that had more rest and was coming off its own emotional walk-off upset over No.3 UCLA. You could tell there was a carry over effect from the win against Tennessee, and the Tigers' bats were ice-cold. Northwestern blanked the Tigers 7-0. The Tigers had absolutely no answer for anything Northwestern wanted to do, and it showed.
In the second Saturday game against Wisconsin, the Tigers' bats remained cold with runners on, but they played much better defensively and should have won the game. The Tigers managed 7 hits, but they resulted in only one run. Sophomore Millie Thompson was outstanding in the circle, going 6 scoreless innings, but Rittman made a questionable move to bring Cagle in to start the 7th. The move often worked last season, but this time, it would blow up in Rittman's face. Cagle hit the leadoff batter on her first pitch, and that was a bad omen. After a sac bunt and a single moved the runner to 3rd. Cagle threw another wild pitch, and that gave Wisconsin its first run of the game to tie it. Cagle had a chance at redemption in the bottom of the 7th with 2 outs but grounded out to send it to their second extra-inning game in consecutive days. With the automatic runner at 2nd per extra-inning rules, Cagle gave up a leadoff single to give the Badgers their first lead, 2-1 in the 8th. As if that wasn't enough, Rittman decided to place Cagle at 2nd as the automatic runner in the bottom half, hoping she would get some redemption, and it again backfired. She was doubled up on a leadoff line drive by Guimbarda, and the Vols would hold on to win in 8 innings. It was one of the rare instances in which Valerie Cagle appeared to be human, and she was the goat (original definition) rather than the GOAT. However, she would get her redemption on Sunday!
In the last game of the tournament for the Tigers, a No.5 Washington team awaited them for an early 10 am start. This was another pitchers' dual from the start, and Cagle had her stuff this time. She pitched a complete-game shutout with 10 K's. The Tigers managed to take an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd, but it wasn't until the bottom of the 6th that they added a insurance run with a shot over the left-center fence by--you guessed it--Valerie Cagle to secure the 2-0 win. It was Cagle's third HR of the season. The Huskies had several chances to tie or take the lead, but the Clemson defense was stellar behind Cagle.
These types of games are the reason why some feel like the Tigers were unfairly sent to Tuscaloosa for the regional instead of getting the luxury of hosting. Last season, these games were cancelled or travel was restricted due to Covid rules and regulations, and the Tigers didn't have any big non-conference wins. That can't be said this season!
After being on the road for the last two weeks, the Lady Tigers will be at Charlotte on Wednesday before their home opener against Boston on Friday to open the Clemson Classic tournament. As this program continues to grow, the Lady Tigers are growing as well. These early tournaments are NCAA resume-builders, and with what we have seen so far this season, look for the Tigers to host their first NCAA Regional when tournament time arrives.
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