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Baseball on NCAA Bubble After ACC Blunders

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With their NCAA Tournament lives on the line, the Clemson baseball team needed to have a strong performance at the ACC Tournament to solidify their right to a bid. While a 1-2 record in Durham was not exactly ideal, a quality win over No. 3 Lousiville might have been enough to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Elaine Day

Following a major sweep of the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee to finish up the regular season, hopes were high for the baseball team's performance in Durham, North Carolina at the ACC Tournament. However, aside from a dominant 7-2 victory over the No. 1 seed Louisville in their second game, the Tigers could not manage to overcome costly defensive errors and advance to the championship game. After going 1-2 in the tournament, the Tigers find themselves with a 32-27 record, very much on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid.

In the first game against No. 10 Florida State, even though Clemson managed to get four runs off of him in their last matchup, the Tiger offense was stumped by Seminole starter Boomer Biegalski (6-4), who pitched 6.1 scoreless innings in the 3-1 FSU victory. Tiger starter Matthew Crownover (10-2) suffered only his second loss of the year regardless of having a pretty solid outing, allowing three runs on three hits, all of which came in the third inning. Crownover also struck out eight batters in his 7.0 innings pitched and was named a Golden Spikes semifinalist on Friday afternoon.

"I felt like I was kind of out of sorts for a while there," Crownover said. "My four-seam was kind of cutting on me, so I had to add and subtract on my sinker all day. I tried to get ahead, I fell behind on a lot of batters early on, but really, besides the third inning, they didn't get a hit off me. I could have done a little better damage control, but a good team beat me."

The Seminoles got on the board in the third after a single and a walk brought their top hitter, DJ Stewart, to the plate with two men on and two outs. Stewart proceeded to rip a 3-2 pitch into left field over the outstretched glove of Reed Rohlman, good for a triple. Quincy Nieporte then singled to score Stewart, but that would be all for the Seminoles. It proved to be enough. The Tigers managed to score a single run in the eighth off of a Chris Okey RBI groundout that scored Steven Duggar, but they were unable to capitalize on multiple other situations with runners in scoring position.

I believe in this ballclub, I believe in my teammates, I believe in my coaches, and I think we can play with anybody in the country. -Tyler Krieger

Clemson's second game featured a matchup with No. 3 Louisville, and thanks to a solid offensive day from the entire lineup and a lights-out performance from starter Zack Erwin (7-4), the Tigers came out on top 7-2. Louisville put their Friday starter, Kyle Funkhouser (7-5), on the mound, but he was unable to contain the Tiger lineup, allowing Clemson to jump out to a 5-0 lead in the first two innings.

The scoring started with a Rohlman RBI single that scored Duggar and Tyler Krieger, who had reached on a single and an error, respectively. Okey then followed up with an RBI double that scored Rohlman, and designated hitter Robert Jolly also got a hit before Weston Wilson hit into a double play to end the inning. The Tigers added two more in the second on a sac fly from Duggar that scored Tyler Slaton, and a RBI single from Krieger that scored Andrew Cox. The final two Clemson runs were scored in the fifth courtesy of a two-RBI double from Wilson that scored Krieger and Okey.

"Every single game we play at Clemson is a big one," Krieger said. "We come to school to play in games like this. The tournament is an awesome opportunity for us, every game we play, and we look forward to playing tomorrow. Every game is just exciting with these guys; we have the talent to win every game we play in. I believe in my teammates, I believe in our coaches, I believe in our program, and I think there's a lot of good things in front of us if we continue to play the way we are."

Tiger starter Erwin was absolutely dominant, allowing only one run in 8.0 innings pitched and tying a season-high 11 strikeouts.

"Last time I pitched against [Louisville], I gave up 11 hits, and most of them were on first pitch fastballs," Erwin said. "This time out, I was trying to throw more offspeed first pitch and get ahead in the count, and that really helped out today. I was able to do my job and it worked out well."

After a lot of buzz following the second game about how the Tigers might have finally earned their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, an error-riddled performance that led to a 6-3 loss to the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels did not exactly back up those positive sentiments. Tar Heel freshman starter J.B. Bukauskas got the best of the Clemson lineup, sitting down the Tigers in order during each of the first three innings. Clemson did manage to score three runs courtesy of an RBI single from Krieger in the sixth, who later scored on a wild pitch, and another RBI single from Wilson in the eighth.

Tiger starter Jake Long did not fare as well as Bukauskas due largely to the lack of clean defense behind him, allowing five runs (two earned) on two hits with five strikeouts and five walks in 3.2 innings. The Tar Heels got three runs in the third inning after a costly error with two outs by shortstop Eli White allowed the inning to continue, and two batters later, Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer to right field. North Carolina added two more runs in the fourth as a result of four walks and two hits allowed by Long and his reliever, Clate Schmidt. Schmidt was unable to record an out and was relieved by Charlie Barnes, whose later error in the sixth inning combined with another White error allowed the Tar Heels to tack on their sixth run.

Overall, it was a somewhat underwhelming performance in Durham for Head Coach Jack Leggett's squad, who is now at the mercy of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and will find out their postseason fate on Monday at noon on ESPNU. Leggett and the players think that they've done enough to cement a bid to the tournament, citing a 7-4 record against top-10 teams paired with their late-season success as proof that they can compete with the best in the nation.

"I believe in this ballclub, I believe in my teammates, I believe in my coaches, and I think we can play with anybody in the country," Krieger said on Friday. "It's kind of out of our hands at this point, and we'll be watching Monday. But I believe in what we have as a team and a program, and I look forward to hopefully having an opportunity."