Tide Shows Heart, But Falls Short

Baseball is a game of statistics, and statistically Clemson had a huge advantage in almost every category over Alabama. But athletics is often about heart, and the Crimson Tide almost had enough to continue a Cinderella season. Almost.

But it won't be Alabama going to the College World Series. In the NCAA Super Regional at Clemson, the 13th-ranked Tigers held on against a valiant Crimson Tide effort and took an 8-6 victory. The win sends Clemson to the College World Series in Omaha and ends what turned into a magnificent season for Alabama, ranked 16th in the nation.

The loss notwithstanding, no one could fault the effort of Bama against the long odds the Tide was able to overcome in the past month. Considering what the team of first year coach Mitch Gaspard had gone through, it almost should not have been a surprise that Alabama came so close to another huge success. But it was not to be.

Much of Alabama's success in recent weeks has been because of the Tide's never-give-up attitude as exemplified by its efficiency in scoring runs with two outs. That was the formula again Monday. Bama was down 8-1 going to the bottom of the ninth inning (Alabama was home team by virtue of a coin toss) and still down 8-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Down to its last out, Alabama used another two-out rally and nearly overcame a seven-run deficit. The Crimson Tide scored five runs in the ninth inning with two outs and finished the postseason by scoring 38 of its 73 postseason runs with two outs.

It was hot and humid in Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium Monday afternoon, but it was Alabama's comeback effort that was making it uncomfortable for the Tigers.

Freshman designated hitter Brett Booth ignited the offense with a two-run home run down the right field line that closed the gap to 8-3. Senior third baseman Jake Smith, who drew a four-pitch walk against Clemson reliever Kevin Brady, scored on Booth's first career postseason home run.

Following Booth's two-run homer, junior catcher Brock Bennett legged out an infield hit and sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases.

Tomas Cruz replaced Brady on the mound and walked junior second baseman Ross Wilson to force home Bennett as Alabama closed the gap to 8-4. Following Wilson's walk, senior first baseman Clay Jones hit a ground ball right between the legs of Clemson shortstop Brad Miller allowing Dugas and Rutledge to score to make it an 8-6 game. It was Miller's third error of the game.

With runners at second and third and two outs, Clemson brought in left-hander Will Lamb to face Smith, who was batting for the second time in the inning and represented the winning run. Smith fouled off the first pitch and then took two pitches out of the strike zone. With a 2-1 count, Smith hit a fly ball to left-center field that was caught by Jeff Schaus to end the threat and send Clemson to the College World Series for the 12th time in school history.

Alabama (43-25) closed the season by winning 13 of its last 17 games and had won three straight NCAA Tournament elimination games before the season-ending loss to Clemson. The Tide was aiming for its seventh trip to Omaha.

Clemson (43-22) hit three home runs, including two home runs by first baseman Richie Shaffer.

Lamb picked up his second save of the season as he recorded the game's final out. Clemson starter Dominic Leone (3-1) earned the win after he kept the Tide hitter's off balance into the sixth inning.

A true freshman, Leone held the Crimson Tide to one run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and one walk. He left the game after Alabama loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning.

Bennett was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Rutledge lined a one-out single to center. After Wilson flied out to left field, Jones drew a walk to load the bases to chase Leone.

Following the walk, Alex Frederick replaced Leone on the mound and got out of the jam when Smith popped up to second baseman Mike Freeman on the first pitch to leave the bases loaded.

With momentum on its side, Clemson extended its lead on Shaffer's two-run home run to right-center field that gave the Tigers an 8-1 lead. It was Shaffer's seventh home run of the season and second of the game.

Alabama took 1-0 lead with a run in the bottom of the first inning. Dugas reached on an error by Miller and then advanced to third on a two wild pitches by Leone. Wilson put the Tide in front with an RBI single to right as Dugas scored to give the Tide a brief 1-0 lead.

Clemson would score two runs in each of the next three innings off Alabama right-hander Nathan Kilcrease to take a 6-1 lead. John Hinson's two-run home run in the second inning put the Tigers in front 2-1.

Clemson stretched its lead to 4-1 on Miller's two-out, two-run double in the third inning. Chris Epps and Freeman reached on back-to-back singles to open the third inning and both would score on Miller's double.

Shaffer led off the fourth with a solo home run to give Clemson a 5-1 lead. The Tigers would add a second run in the inning on Schaus' two-out double that scored Epps and put Clemson up 6-1.

Kilcrease (8-3) allowed six runs on 11 hits in five innings with two strikeouts and one walk. It was his first loss since a 9-7 loss in 11 innings at No. 3 South Carolina on April 30.

Leone allowed a one-out single to Alabama freshman right fielder Andrew Miller in the second inning and then set down the next 10 UA hitters in order. He got 11 outs on just 23 pitches during the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.

Alabama junior left-hander Jonathan Smart held the Tigers in check over the final four innings. He held Clemson to two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He retired seven of the last eight batters he faced.

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