Chris Epps' base hit to right field to start the game set the stage as the Tigers produced 11 runs off 10 hits in the first three innings of play in a 15-1 victory in the Clemson Regional Sunday night. The Tigers and Cowboys will play again Monday night in the championship game with a berth in next week's super regionals at stake.
"It was important for us to start out early," Epps said. "The past two games we had started off real slow and I had not been getting on lead-off wise so I guess today by jumping on them from the get-go we took a little pressure off our pitchers and got the team going early.
"Starting off early was a good situation for us."
It definitely was a good situation. Sunday marked the third time in Clemson history that a Clemson team scored 10 or more runs in back-to-back NCAA games on the same day. It also happened in the 1989 Tallahassee, Fla., Regional and the 1999 Fayetteville, Ark., Regional.
"It's just a matter of getting in the tournament and getting those reps," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "Once we got in the tournament we started swinging the bats."
Clemson (43-20) is looking for its fourth trip to a super regional in five years, while the Cowboys will be looking to make their first since 1999. The Tigers are 10-0 at home under Jack Leggett in which it can clinch a regional or super regional championship.
"Tomorrow is a new day," Leggett said. "I don't know what they will have for pitching for us tomorrow, either a lefty or a righty. They will have some fresh arms ready to go so hopefully we can come out and swing the bats because we know they are a good baseball team."
With Clemson struggling to score runs in each of its first two games of the tournament, Leggett decided to make a change to not only send a message to his team, but to also set a spark as well. He did that by starting Addison Johnson over Kyle Parker, who had been hitting just .179 since April 17. That translates to 17 hits in his last 95 at-bats. He is 1-for-8 in the Clemson Regional with four walks.
"Things worked out," Leggett said. "He had a pretty good at-bat in the first ballgame and I felt we needed to give him a chance because he runs the bases so well and handles center field well. We will look at that again tomorrow.
"Kyle is a good player for us and it's tough to take him out of the lineup. He is our leading home run hitter, but I think at this time you just play who you think is the hottest guy."
Johnson, who has not started a game since April 24, responded with an RBI double to centerfield as part of a six-run third inning by the Tigers, which gave them an 11-0 lead at the time.
"Everything we did today just seemed to work out today," Leggett said. "If you just pitch well and hit well early in the ballgame it makes it looks like things are going the way you want them to. The whole game things were going well for us."
Epps and Mike Freeman were the Tigers big hitters Sunday night. After a 3-for-3 performance against Tennessee State in the first game, Epps produced three hits against the Cowboys Sunday night, including an RBI single to left in the third inning. He scored in the first and the second innings as well.
He was 1-for-3 with an RBI in Saturday's game against Oklahoma State (34-23).
"When you get a hit like that in that kind of situation and then you sleep on it and think about it, it gives you the confidence and understanding that you can make that kind of play," Epps said. "That's what that hit did for me today. It gave me the confidence to know that I can go out there and get those big hits for us and get on base."
Freeman went 4-for-6 at the plate, including a solo home run in the second inning. In all, Clemson managed 16 hits and four guys had at least two hits. Wilson Boyd was also 4-for-6 and drove in a game-high four runs. Ben Paulsen had two hits and hit his second home run of the day in the third inning.
"We're just trying to be aggressive and stay on the ball," Freeman said.
Like the first game, Clemson got another strong performance on the mound as well. This time it was from freshman lefty Chris Dwyer, who gave up just one run and six hits in 8.2 innings of work. He had a career-high 13 strikeouts and just one walk in the victory. His previous career-high was 10, which came against Miami on April 11, which coincidently was his last win.
His 13 strikeouts were also the most by a Clemson pitcher since Ryan Mottl did the same in 1998.
"I just tried to keep the hitters off balance with my changeup and curveball," Dwyer said.
Clemson got eight shutout innings from fellow freshman Scott Weisman in the win over Tennessee Tech. He gave up just four hits and did not allow more than one base runner in any inning.
"They went out there and did a heck of a job for us today," Leggett said. "It is tough to find two freshmen to pitch like that in a pressure situation and big situations in a regional. I'm proud of both of those guys."
The two pitchers also got some help from its defense. Freeman made a diving stab and throw over to first in the third inning to rob a base hit from Oklahoma State's Dean Green, while Brad Miller made a difficult play deep into the hole at short in the fourth inning to steal a hit from Kevin David.
By the way, Cowboys' shortstop Tom Belza — who hit four home runs in his first two games of the regional — was 2-for-4 Sunday night with no RBIs.
Clemson will pitch lefty Ryan Hinson (2-1, 3.41 ERA) Monday, while the Cowboys will go with a lefty, but have not said exactly who. br>
Winner take all set for Monday
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