The Tigers finished the season with a nine-game winning streak and arguably one of hottest teams in the country. But too many mistakes and solid Virginia pitching quickly brought the streak to an end as the No. 7-seed Cavaliers took the 8-1 victory over No. 2 seeded Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon.
The 12th-ranked Tigers committed three errors, but also had several mental errors that led to runs. Offensively, Clemson was in position to put up some runs, but the failure to execute when needed was the Tigers ultimate demise.
All told, it was just a bad day all around for Clemson (37-20).
"We just didn't put together our best game and they played well," Tigers coach Jack Leggett said. "It's hard for me to explain. We've know we've got a lot on the line and I thought we'd be ready to get done what we had to get done."
To bring home the point, Clemson was 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. And only one of the hits brought in a run.
A lot of that, however, can be attributed to Cavaliers starting pitcher Jeff Kamrath (9-4), who came into the tournament with the third-best ERA in the conference. He kept the Clemson hitters off balance by mixing up his pitches and not getting into any set pattern.
"It's just a credit to our pitching coach (Karl Kuhn) and our catcher (Scott Headd)," Kamrath said. "People ask why I don't shake off (the signs), and I have no desire to shake off. Coach K calls the game and does such a great job that I don't have to think out there. I just throw."
That was evident in the bottom of the first inning when the first two hitters for the Tigers reached base on a pair of infield singles. After a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, Kamrath struck out Tyler Colvin and Kris Harvey to retired the side.
However, the Cavaliers (39-17) managed to get their players by going 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position. But what hurt Clemson was the fact that the first four runners to score for the Cavaliers all reached base due to miscues by the Tigers.
Virginia took a 1-0 lead in the third inning after Kyle Werman reached first on an error by shortstop Stan Widmann. He later scored from second on a single to right by Matt Street.
The Tigers managed to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third when second baseman Taylor Harbin singled in Adrian Casanova, who had started the inning off with a double.
The Cavaliers took the lead again in the sixth after leadoff hitter Ryan Zimmerman was hit by a Stephen Farris (6-4) pitch and Sean Doolittle followed with a single to centerfield, which sent Zimmerman to third. He scored two batters later on a fielder's choice to give them a 2-1 lead.
In the decisive eighth inning, the first two Cavalier hitters reached base by being hit by a pitch and getting a walk, respectively. Then came three straight hits and the next thing Clemson knew, the score was 7-1 and the game essentially over.
Oddly enough, another hit batter scored in the ninth for Virginia.
"It was tough," Farris said. "We didn't catch many breaks today. That's the way it is. That's baseball. … We battled hard, too, but we just didn't get any runs late or any breaks today."
As a result of the loss, Clemson (37-20) will face No. 3-seed Miami Thursday at 10 a.m., in a loser leave town match. The 13th-ranked Hurricanes (38-16) lost 2-1 to N.C. State earlier Wednesday.
There's also a lot a stake in Thursday's game. The Hurricanes have lost five straight and are in serious jeopardy of not being able to host an NCAA Regional. Clemson wants to win at least one game in the tournament to ensure that it will be able to host a regional.
The Tigers swept Miami to end the regular season and it would seem they have the upper hand. However, Leggett believes revenge could play a key factor.
"Every game is different and every opportunity is different," Leggett said. "I'm sure they're a little frustrated since the last four games haven't gone they way they wanted them to go. So I'm sure they're going to be motivated to come out here and play and prove something against us.
"We should have every right to come out here and play hard tomorrow because we've got to prove ourselves."
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