BOX SCORE: Clemson 8 Alabama 6
Well, mission accomplished.
In Monday's Super Regional elimination game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson beat Alabama 8-6, punching at ticket for the College World Series.
"I couldn't be more proud of our team," said Clemson coach Jack Leggett afterwards. "We came from the depths of the middle of the season; we kept our heads in the game, kept on battling and kept on working at it."
Freshman Richie Shaffer, who went 2-for-5 with two homeruns and three RBIs on Monday, turned down the Los Angeles Dodgers' 25th round draft pick as a senior at Charlotte's Providence High School less than a year ago.
"This is exactly why I came here," he said of Monday's win. "Me personally and a bunch of other guys had a tough decision before they came.
"I knew this is where I wanted to be and this is the program that would fit me the best."
Fellow freshman Dominic Leone echoed the same sentiments as he picked up the win after giving up three hits and one unearned run in 5-2/3 innings of work.
"Coming from a small town in Connecticut, I never thought I'd be playing in front of thousands of people, especially here at Clemson, which has such a great tradition and program," he said. "I came into the fall with the mentality that I needed to work hard and prove myself. I've kept that mentality all season long. It's really been a dream come true."
Before the dream of reaching Omaha became reality, there was plenty of 26-out drama.
With a comfortable 8-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, things turned hairy with two outs.
Alabama, which has been customary throughout the post-season, rode another two-out rally.
Designated hitter Brett Booth uncorked a two-run homer off Kevin Brady, the Tide's first runs since way back in the the first inning. Three-straight singles later second baseman Ross Wilson walked, pushing across another run. Alabama added another pair after Clay Jones' groundball found light between the legs of Clemson shortstop Brad Miller.
Jake Smith, who originally led off the inning with a walk, and represented the winning run with runners at second and third, flied out to left-center allowing Will Lamb to pick up the one out save, while also sending Clemson to the College World Series for the first time since 2006.
"You just had to know the game was going to end like it did," Leggett said.
With the win, Clemson improves to 43-23 while Alabama drops its overall season record to 42-25.
After a scoreless first, Clemson jumped on Alabama starting pitcher Nathan Kilcrease, who gave up six runs on 11 hits through five innings.
"We knew he was a battler," Leggett said of the 5-foot-5 pitcher, known as ‘Peanut' by his teammates.
"We kind of challenged our players that we knew this guy wasn't going to take himself out of the ball game. He wanted to stay in the ball game and compete…I got the response I wanted out of them. They said, ‘We'll see about that.'"
John Hinson sent a two-run homer into the right-centerfield seats to give Clemson a 2-1 lead in the second.
Brad Miller drove in two more with a two-out double in the third, increasing Clemson's lead to 4-1.
Shaffer led off the fourth with his sixth homerun of the season into the right-centerfield. Jeff Schaus later plated another run with a two-out double as the Tigers staked to a 6-1 lead on Kilcrease.
Shaffer added his seventh homerun of the season in the seventh with a two-run shot to give Clemson an 8-1 lead.
"We were squaring up on pitches we like and John (Hinson) got us started to put us up 2-1 and we kept going from there," Shaffer said. "We just had a great approach at the plate all day and never backed off."
Hinson, who went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, described the win as the most satisfying moment he's ever had.
"It was incredible with all the work we put into it," he said. "All the time and effort has paid off so far and we are going to Omaha to win."
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