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For the first six innings, the offense of the Tigers was sluggish and produced just three hits. But No.1-seed Clemson kept it close and when No. 4–seed North Carolina A&Ts' pitching fell apart, the Tigers were there to take advantage of it.
In the decisive seventh inning, the Aggies walked four batters, hit another, gave up two triples and two singles as Clemson sent 12 to the plate to break open a tight game and go on to the 12-2 victory Friday night in front of 4,925 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
"It was definitely a wakeup call," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "They're very well coached. Keith Shumate is a kid that played for me at Western Carolina in the 1980s, and I can tell he's got them playing the way they need to be. … He made the old coach sweat a little bit tonight."
The Tigers (40-21) now play at 7 p.m. Saturday against No. 2-seed College of Charleston (48-13), which beat No. 3-seed Oral Roberts (40-19) 5-2 earlier Friday. The Aggies (27-26) face Oral Roberts at 3 p.m.
With the exception of the final two Clemson at-bats, the Aggies controlled the game. N.C. A&T matched the Tigers in hits, despite striking out 10 times. N.C. A&T also played better defense, committing one fewer error than Clemson.
However, the only statistic that matters is the final score, which wound up being a lot more lopsided than what was really the case.
Up until that point, Tigers starting pitcher Stephen Faris did all he could to keep his team close until their offensive explosion came to fruition. Faris struck out 10 in 6.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs.
"I thought I pitched OK," Farris said. "It wasn't my best outing, but I was out there battling."
Meanwhile, Aggies starting pitcher Michael Hauff (8-5) matched Farris inning for inning. While he didn't have the gaudy strikeout numbers as Farris, he limited Clemson to just three hits and one unearned run over the first six innings.
Then came the seventh, which was an equal part of the Tigers' clutch hitting and N.C. A&T's self destruction.
"We had only three hits up until that eight-run inning that we had," Leggett said. "Finally we got the leadoff man on base, bunted him over. … After that the floodgates kind of opened. We started the bats pretty well after that."
In that fateful seventh inning, Hauff walked two of the first three hitters before surrendering a single and a two-run double to give Clemson a 5-2 lead.
"He pitched a beautiful game for six innings, but he ran out of gas," Shumate said. "And at that point you find out how sharp your bullpen is. We knew Mike was out of gas. Our goal was to get him out of the seventh inning."
Richard Hawk relieved Hauff and promptly walked two more batters and gave up four runs to make it 9-2 and put the game out of reach. All told, the Aggies walked 10 Clemson hitters.
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