NO.5 CLEMSON CRUSHES VA TECH 14-5 FOR 13TH STRAIGHT WIN TO OPEN ACC TOURNAMENT
- 2023-05-25 15:36:26
DURHAM, NC - The Tigers entered the ACC Tournament as the hottest team in America, winning 12 straight and 17 of 18, and they opened ACC Tournament pool play against the Hokies, who the Tigers swept in Blacksburg just a couple of weeks ago. It was a meaningless game in terms of advancing because Boston College had already beaten the Hokies. So regardless of the outcome on Wednesday night, the Tigers and Eagles would have a play-in game on Friday, with the winner advancing to the Semifinal. However, the Tigers still had much to play for because a 13th straight win, in my estimation, would virtually lock up a top 8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With the advantage of knowing that they did not need to beat the Hokies in order to win the pool, Bakich treated it like a mid-week game from a pitching management standpoint, saving his 3 weekend starters for Boston College, the Semifinal and Final. So it would be pitching by committee for the Tigers, and Joe Allen made his 4th start of the season, his last coming against Upstate when he went 2 innings in a 12-2 run-rule win. On the mound for the Hokies was Drew Hackenberg, brother of former Clemson catcher Adam Hackenberg, and he did a pretty good job of keeping the Tigers' high-powered offense at bay early.
The Hokies jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st with a 2-out triple by DeMartini, who had a monster series against the Tigers in Blacksburg. As they have done so often, the Tigers quickly responded with a 2-out single by Blackwell to tie the game in the 2nd. The Hokies retook the lead 2-1 in the bottom half on 3 straight singles off of Allen. Reid came in from the pen and struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
The Tigers responded once again in the top of the 3rd. Taylor hit a sac fly on full count to tie the game 2-2 after fouling off 4 pitches. Grice was hit by a pitch, and Amick drove him in all the way from 1st with a 2-out double to give the Tigers their first lead of the game 3-2. Reid struck out 4 of the 5 batters he retired, but he also hit two batters and walked the bases loaded in the 3rd before getting out of the inning, so Bakich decided to put Olenchuk on the mound to start the 4th. It was not one of his best outings. After a couple of singles, DeMartini hit a 2-out single to score 2 runs and retake the lead 4-3. I posted on my game thread that they should intentionally walk DeMartini with first base open and 2 outs because he had the monster series against the Tigers in Blacksburg and had a 2-out RBI triple in this game, and sure enough, he made the Tigers pay for pitching to him. Olenchuk gave up another 2-out single to make it 5-3 before getting out of the inning.
The game turned on a dime in the 6th, however. Amick and Bertram led off the inning with singles, and Bakich tried to have Wright bunt them over, but the bunt was a little too hard up the 3rd base line, and they got the force at 3rd. Bakich was undeterred, though, and called for a double steal, so the Tigers got the result they were looking for anyway with 2nd and 3rd and one out. After Blackwell struck out swinging on 3 pitches, freshman catcher Jacob Jarrell, who only plays every few games, hit a 2-out flare to shallow left that dropped between two Hokies on a miscommunication. Hackenberg should have been out of the inning with a 5-3 lead, but instead, the game was tied with Jarrell on 2nd! That brought leadoff man Cam Cannarella, the ACC Freshman of the Year, to the plate, and after fouling off 6 straight pitches on full count, he ripped a 2-out single to give the Tigers a 6-5 lead. That chased Hackenberg out of the game, and the Tigers would load the bases after Ingle singled and Taylor was hit by a pitch. Grice hit a 2-out grand slam on a 3-1 pitch, and just like that, the Tigers had a 10-5 lead! It was Grice's 15th HR of the season and 3rd in 4 games. It was the 25th grand slam in ACC Tournament history and Grice's 3rd of the season, setting a Clemson record. The Tigers scored 9 of their first 10 runs with 2 outs, including 7 in the 6th. To me, that inning was like a microcosm of Bakich's exciting brand of baseball. They tried to bunt the runners to 2nd and 3rd, and when that didn't work, they stole the bases. That put the pressure on the defense, and one error opened the flood gates.
Bailey had come out of the pen and got a double play to end the 5th, and he went 1-2-3 in the 6th. The Tigers made it 11-5 on a single by Bertram in the 8th. Then they loaded the bases with one out in the 9th, and Amick singled to drive in a run. They tacked on 2 more runs on a throwing error to make it 14-5. The Tigers scored 11 unanswered runs to finish the game! Weiss, Lindley and Hoffmann each pitched a scoreless inning, and the Tigers used 7 pitchers in the game.
The Hokies handed the Tigers an 18-6 loss to end their season last year in the ACC Tournament, so it was sweet revenge to sweep them in 4 games, bookending them with routs, to end the Hokies' season. Amazingly, they were the No.1 seed in the tournament last season and hosted a Super Regional. The Tigers have won 13 straight and 18 of their last 19. They have virtually locked up a top-8 NCAA seed, win or lose on Friday. They will play the Eagles, who they beat 2 of 3 in Chestnut Hill about a month ago, on Friday at 11:00, and the winner will advance to the ACC Semifinal. I expect the starting pitcher for the Eagles to be West, who beat the Tigers 3-1, the only game of the series that BC won. Grice has been the Tigers' best starting pitcher, but I expect to see Friday starter Ethan Darden get the nod on Friday. Hopefully the freshman will be ready for the big stage.
Post-game interviews and highlights are below!
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