CLEMSON BEATS AUBURN 5-1 IN NCAA REGIONAL FINAL, ADVANCING TO 2ND STRAIGHT SUPER REGIONAL
- 2023-05-22 19:16:39
CLEMSON, SC - The two Tigers met on Sunday in the NCAA Regional Final, and it would be two more rematches of National Player of the Year front-runner Valerie Cagle and SEC Pitcher of the Year Maddie Penta. Cagle won the first two pitchers' duels with Penta, 1-0 in the 2022 regional and 7-0 on Saturday. However, Penta had the upper-hand in game one on Sunday. Almost as if Cagle didn't get enough warming up for the early noon start, she uncharacteristically gave up a leadoff walk and 3 straight hits, including a HR, to start the game and put the host Tigers in an early 3-0 hole. She settled in after that, and Logoleo hit a solo HR in the 4th to make it 3-1, but Rittman made a strategic decision to replace Cagle with Regan Spencer with the intention of saving Cagle for the next game if necessary. Spencer is the 4th pitcher in the Tigers' rotation, and I'm still a little confounded with the decision to use her instead of Thompson or McCubbin because Spencer is not nearly as good as the other two. She gave up a 2-out double in the bottom of the 4th to make it 4-1.
Just like they did against Penta on Saturday, the Tigers rallied in the 5th. Hyatt led off with a walk, Davenport singled and Cagle drew a walk on full count to load the bases with 2 outs. Jacobsen walked on full count to make it 4-2, and I was told by an Auburn reporter that it may have been the first time Penta walked in a run. Unfortunately, Logoleo struck out swinging on full count after she was ahead 3-0 in the count, stranding the bases loaded. Thompson started the 5th and went 1-2-3, but she gave up 3 singles in the 6th to make it 5-2, and McCubbin came in to finish pitch the rest of the way. Penta struck out the first two in the 7th inning, and Cagle hit a 2-out single on full count, but flied out to end the game. With the 5-2 win, Auburn forced a rubber match final shortly to follow.
Between the two games, the Tigers changed into their grey pants, and it was the same uniform they wore when they beat Penta and Auburn 1-0 in the the regional last season. I asked Clark and Rittman after the game if that was a conscientious decision or happenstance, and they chuckled. Rittman said one of the assistants made the choice and that he's pretty sharp about those kinds of things. Whether deliberate or not, the Tigers looked like a different team in the rubber match!
Cagle was in the circle again and got off to a much better start this time, going 1-2-3 in the 1st. The host Tigers quickly seized back momentum in the bottom half. Penta hit Clark by a pitch to lead off the inning, and Cagle singled. Clark tried to score on a grounder by Jacobsen but was thrown out at the plate. However, Cagle scored the first run of the game on a wild pitch with 2 outs.
Cagle went 1-2-3 again in the 2nd, and the Tigers added 2 more runs in the bottom half to make it 3-0. Vieira started the rally with a one-out walk, and 9-hitter Davenport hit a clutch 2-out single to drive her in. Clark was hit by a pitch again, and Miklesh bunted her way on to load the bases with 2 outs. This finally chased the SEC Pitcher of the Year out of the circle, and you could tell that the Tigers smelled blood after that. Cagle walked in a run on full count, but grounded out to strand the bases loaded. They left some runs on the bases, but with a 3-0 lead, Penta out of the game and Cagle in the circle, the Tigers were in great shape!
Cagle gave up a run in the 3rd on a double, an error and a sac grounder, but the Tigers extended their advantage in the 4th. Clark hit a leadoff single, Cagle walked on full count and Jacobsen drove in a run with a single. Moore hit a 2-out single to drive in another run and make it 5-1. That was all the Tigers would need, as Cagle mowed Auburn down, allowing just a couple of 2-out singles in the next 3 innings.
The Tigers advanced to their second straight NCAA Super Regional, improving to 6-1 all-time in home regional games, and they have the dubious honor of going to Norman to play 54-1 Oklahoma, the two-time Defending Champs. As I said before, the Selection Committee screwed the Tigers with the No.16 seed and putting them in this enormous disadvantage. They should have been no worse than a 14 seed, and they would have a 50/50 chance or better of winning at any other Super Regional other than Oklahoma. However, it is what it is, and perhaps knowing that the whole world expects Oklahoma to win will allow the Tigers to play loose and care-free, as if they're playing with house money. And perhaps Oklahoma will be overconfident. The Sooners may have one of the best teams of all time, but Clemson has the best player in the nation and one of the best all time in Valerie Cagle, so the Tigers have a shot! She was already the front-runner for National Player of the Year, and the performance she put on this weekend had to make her even more of a favorite to win the award. It will be announced in a little over a week, prior to the College World Series.
Be sure to watch the video below. The Tigers thanked the Clemson Family after the Alma Mater. My post-game interviews are below as well!
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