CLEMSON, SC - The Lady Tigers fell from No.9 to No.15 after being swept at home by No.6 Virginia Tech last weekend. But if you thought they would lay down after that, you are probably the same person who thought Old Man Winter was done down here in the South a week ago.
This past week proved those people wrong. As Old Man Winter tried to leave his mark, it was the Tigers' roar that did the damage. The Tigers beat Mercer 3-0 on Wednesday and then swept Illinois and Liberty in the Tiger Invitational over the weekend. I felt a little sympathy for Illinois and Liberty. These are just two of several northern teams who have to travel south for warmer weather just to make playing February and early March softball possible. And what do they find? An angry top-15 Clemson team and inhospitable weather!
As temperatures dipped into the 30's on Saturday with blustering winds, Illinois and Liberty might have felt right at home. It certainly wasn't what the Tigers are used to, and perhaps that's why their bats went cold. They didn't exactly light up the scoreboard, scoring 16 runs in the 5 games, but they had the home crowd to lift their spirits and enough offense to get the job done with great pitching and defense, allowing just 5 runs in the 5 games with 3 shutouts.
In the game 1 on Saturday, the Tigers beat Illinois 3-1. Every Tiger hit safely while Cagle pitched her 4th complete game of the season, tallying 6 strikeouts. She allowed just 5 hits and one run with no walks. Pereira drove in 2 runs and Keller drove in the 3rd.
The Tigers played a doubleheader on Sunday, and Dabo Swinney threw out the first pitch! In game 2 against the Illini, the Tigers shut them out 4-0. Sophomore Millie Thompson picked up the win, giving up just 5 hits. The Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Taylor in the 2nd, and Gimbarda added a 2-out, 3-run HR in the 3rd. It was her 5th HR of the season. The win gave the Tigers' young program its 100th victory in its second full season.
In game 3 on Sunday, Liberty had every intention of upsetting the Tigers and gave them all they could handle. It took extra innings before the Tigers managed to escape with the 5-4 victory. The Tigers actually trailed 3-1 but scored a run in the 6th and another in the 7th to send it to extras. Valerie Cagle was once again the hero at the plate, driving in Russ with a 2-out single to tie the game in the 7th. Guimbarda followed that with a double, but Cagle was thrown out at the plate in an attempt to win the game.
Unlike baseball, softball has the international rule that puts a runner on 2nd base in extra innings, and Liberty was able to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the 8th. In the bottom half, Ansley Houston had her number called, and she delivered by advancing to 3rd on a sac bunt by Pereira, who also reached on an error. After ground outs by Logoleo and Taylor, the Tigers had 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs, and Rittman made the call to pinch hit Kyah Keller for Maddie Moore, and it proved to be the right decision! Keller had her moment in the sun, as she battled through a 7-pitch sequence before driving the ball up the middle for a 2-out single, scoring both Houston and Pereira to walk it off for the Tigers. Brooke McCubbin earned the victory, pitching the final 4 innings and recording 5 strikeouts in relief of Spencer.
In game 4 on Monday, it was the Valerie Cagle show, as the Tigers finished off the tournament with another walk-off, extra-inning win over Liberty. Cagle recorded 10 strikeouts and pitched a complete-game shutout, improving her record to 7- 3 on the season. Emily Kirby matched Cagle inning for inning, however, as neither side could figure out the other at the plate. Both teams had their chances, but as good as the pitching was, the defense was even better.
Once the game reached extra innings, the Tigers made quick work of Liberty in the 8th. Marissa Guimbarda got things started with a drive into right field for a single. Houston was called on again, this time to pinch run for Guimbarda, and she advanced to 3rd on a slow chopper by Pereira down the 3rd base line that forced a throwing error. Logoleo walked it off and ended the game on a slow roller to first base that forced another throwing error. After scoring the tying run in the previous game on Sunday, pinch-runner Ansley Houston scored the game's only run on Monday for the 1-0 win.
The Lady Tigers have won 5 straight at home since having their 21-game home win streak snapped last week by No.6 VA Tech. They will look to continue their winning ways, as they host Winthrop on Tuesday at 6:00 at McWhorter Stadium. Aby Vieira is still out with a lower leg injury, but Rittman told us he hopes to get her back soon. Post-game comments from Rittman are below!
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