Tigers should be up for Duke

CLEMSON — Matt Vaughn sat in the dugout holding his head in his hands. Though he tried, the Clemson pitcher could not shake off of the mental images of what had just happened.

The Clemson closer, who had recorded 11 saves last season and has two since returning from injury this year, had perhaps one of the worse nights of his baseball career.

Vaughn was unable to hold on to the one-run lead he inherited from starter Justin Sarratt as the righty surrendered a pair of runs in the top of the ninth as top-ranked Georgia rallied for a 4-2 to win Wednesday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.

It was the fifth time this year Clemson lost a game on an opponent's final at bat.

"We need to start closing games out," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said.

The Tigers lost to South Carolina on Feb. 28th after entering the ninth inning tied at one, and then they gave up a two-run lead to Furman three days later and eventually lost the game in the 14th. They also gave up winning runs in the bottom of the ninth at North Carolina and at Florida State before Wednesday's debacle.

"We needed to come out here and get a ‘W', and we just fell a little bit short," said Sarratt after he posted 12 strikeouts in eight innings of work. "It's going to be a tough one to swallow obviously."

But the 17th-ranked Tigers (18-9, 7-5 ACC) better swallow it fast because a big weekend series with the Duke Blue Devils begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Clemson. Sitting just a few percentage points back of Florida State in the ACC's Atlantic Division, the Tigers need to win the series in order to keep pace.

Of course, winning the series to keep up with the Seminoles isn't the only reason this weekend is big for Clemson.

This will be the Tigers' first baseball game against Duke since last year. If you recall, that's when Duke failed to cover the baseball field when a lightning delay interrupted the game with Clemson on top 8-6 in the top of the 11th inning.

Ironically, the game was suspended just seconds after Clemson's Kyle Parker knocked a two-run home run off the scoreboard and touched home plate to put the Tigers up. A Duke official, who received a text message from the Weather Data Agency in Wichita, Kansas four minutes earlier, then entered the field, and after talking to the umpire, the game was suspended due to the risk of a lightning strike within a 10-mile radius.

But that really wasn't the problem as much as it was that Duke officials failed to cover the field before the storm hit.

"About 25 or 30 minutes had gone by, and I was wondering what was going on," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said the Monday after that game. "No one had covered the field. I was thinking we have to get this field covered. If you know rain is coming, then you cover the field immediately, run back to the dugout and wait your 30 minutes or whatever it is until lightning shows up."

Instead the rain came and eventually the field was ruled unplayable and the game was called a 6-6 tie as rules dictated the game falls back to the last complete half inning.

Duke (19-9, 6-6) said it did not cover up the field because of a rule that says no one can go on the field during a lightning delay.

"The safety of those involved with the game should and will always take precedent over the contest's outcome," Duke head coach Sean McNally said in a statement at the time.

Leggett agreed with McNally in regards to safety, but he felt there was no threat of danger around the ball field.

"If you get indication that something like that is coming you immediately get people off the field, but cover the field," he said. "Protect the integrity of the game, and be safe at all times of course, but there was no threat at all anywhere around."

Leggett filed a complaint to the ACC offices after he got back to Clemson, but the league ruled to keep the result as is. Leggett hoped his complaint at least changed some of the protocols when it comes to protecting the integrity of the game.

"No one made an effort to put the tarp on the field, and that's what bothers me the most," he said.

Though things ended up working out for the Tigers in the end – Clemson advanced to the ACC Baseball Tournament and Duke did not – they have not forgotten about that day.

Now couple the disappointing loss to Georgia on top of what will already be an emotional series, Duke can expect one angry Clemson baseball team this weekend.

"Our kids have been playing well and battling, and somehow we're just having a little trouble finishing things off," Leggett said. "We've just got to find the right combination and figure out what we've got to do to protect leads."

One thing is certain — the Tigers will not use a lightning delay to do it.

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