Rather than go with senior pitcher and veteran starter Phillip Davidson, he opted to rely on a true freshman that had never started a game. Matt Payne had pitched a total of 22 innings, allowing 10 runs and 16 walks and was called upon to face one of the hottest teams in the country.
The odds of Payne having a good outing were definitely stacked against him.
The No. 2-seed Tigers came out in the top of the first inning and pounded the youngster, who lasted just one inning, to build an insurmountable lead and take the 5-4 victory over No. 6-seed N.C. State in a loser's bracket game Friday in the ACC Tournament at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
"I knew they had Davidson and I knew they had (Brandon Knapp)," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "(Starting Payne) surprised me a little bit. We expected Davidson."
In that onslaught of an inning, designated hitter Kris Harvey stroked a hanging curveball down the leftfield line for a two-out, two-run double to plate Clemson's first two runs. Travis Storrer and Stan Widmann each followed with RBI-singles to stake the Tigers to a quick 4-0 lead.
"I thought he was working the middle of the plate too much," Harvey said. "He left some balls up, especially with his breaking ball and not throwing it for strikes and his changeup for strikes. It made it easy for us. He pretty much became a one-pitch guy."
Payne (2-1) was done after that inning and Avent brought in Davidson, who basically shutdown Clemson (39-20) the rest of the way, with the exception of a solo home run by Taylor Harbin in the seventh inning.
"Maybe Jack should have called me," Avent said. "Maybe he knew more about that than me. … It was something we wrestled with all night. If it was about winning one baseball game, which I guess it's what it's about – you've got to stay alive to win the tournament – but we came down here to win the tournament.
"This was about getting the guys an ACC championship ring and winning the ACC Tournament. To do that, we felt like Matt Payne had to give us four or five innings today, then go to Duncan and then finish up with Joey Devine. Then we could go with Phillip and Knapp tomorrow in the doubleheader to get in the championship game and bring (Gib) Hobson back on Sunday. It's a great hindsight game. But we decided to go for the tournament and that's what we had to do to win it, we thought."
The only problem with Avent's theory is that you can't get to Saturday if you don't win Friday. As Leggett likes to say, you do everything to win the game you're playing and worry about the future when the time comes.
While Payne was smoked from the get-go, Clemson starting pitcher Robert Rohrbaugh was nearly unhittable. Rohrbaugh (7-2) went a career-high 8.2 innings and compiled a career-high 10 strikeouts, while allowing just four hits and one earned run.
"This year, I've struggled a little bit, but today it was different," he said. "Anytime your team scores four runs in the first inning, it makes it a lot easier to pitch. … That was the key, I was hitting my spots. (Catcher Adrian) Casanova did a great job of calling pitches and setting up behind the plate."
Rohrbaugh was one strike away from getting a complete game twice, but Jake Muyco fouled off six pitches before stroking a single to left and Brian Aragon cranked a doubled to right-centerfield to score Muyco and keep the game alive.
Rohrbaugh then walked the next hitter to put runners on first and second and end his night with a 5-3 lead.
Jeff Hahn, who was torched against in his outing against Virginia Wednesday, was asked to get the save. But he promptly yielded an infield single and coupled with a throwing error by Harbin, Aragon scored from second to make it 5-4 and put the winning run for the Wolfpack (40-17) on first and the tying run on second.
However, Hahn bounced back and struck out Jonathan Diaz to end the game and send the Tigers to a 10 a.m. game Saturday against Virginia.
"I was just happy to get back out there and make something good happen, especially after throwing the way I did the other night," Hahn said.
The Tigers will send Harvey (5-3, 5.13 ERA) to the mound Saturday morning, and should they win, David Kopp (4-3, 4.75 ERA) will go in the 4 p.m. game against the Cavaliers.
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