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Wilkerson’s Big Hit Lifts Clemson Past ’Canes; Tigers stand 2-0 in Pool A play following dramatic win
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@theACCDN Highlights || #MustSeeACC Moments: Clemson's Jay Baum Makes Unbelievable Play || Steve Wilkerson Comes Up Clutch For Clemson
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – With the driver’s seat in Pool A of the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship there for the taking, Steve Wilkerson and the Clemson Tigers slid into the spot and grabbed the wheel.
Wilkerson’s one out-single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Tyler Slaton from second base and lifted the fifth-seeded Tigers to a 3-2 win over top-seeded Miami in the nightcap of Thursday’s session at NewBridge Bank Park.
A crowd of 3,417 saw Clemson (36-22 overall) become the only remaining unbeaten team in Pool A with a 2-0 mark in this year’s Championship. Duke and Georgia Tech both stand 1-1, and Miami (40-17) dropped to 0-2.
Clemson faces ninth-seeded Georgia Tech in Friday’s 3 p.m. game and could earn a spot in Sunday’s title game with a win. Miami has Friday off and will wrap up tournament play against fourth-seeded Duke on Saturday at 11 a.m.
“I couldn't be more proud of how our team battled,” said Clemson coach Jack Leggett, who notched his 1,300th career win. “I just had this feeling that – we had the last at bat tonight and I had a feeling we were going to figure out some way to win.”
The Tigers’ winning ninth inning took shape when Slaton worked Miami reliever Bryan Garcia for a leadoff walk. After Tyler Krieger flew out to left, Steven Duggar rapped a 1-0 pitch into right field for a single.
That put runners on first and second and set the stage for Wilkerson, who lined Garcia’s first offering into right field and jumped for joy on the basepaths between first and second as Slaton raced home.
Drew Moyer (5-1) picked up the win in relief for Clemson, which received a quality start from All-ACC pitcher Daniel Gossett, who worked 8 1/3 innings. The senior right-hander scattered seven hits and struck out eight batters while walking two before departing with the score deadlocked at 2-2 in the top of the ninth.
“We felt like he was the best pitcher we faced all year coming into this game,” Miami coach Jim Morris said. “He pitched very well he played good solid defense, and got some good hits. Our guys played hard, too, and we had some opportunities, we got a base hit here or there, but they got that big hit when they needed it and they were fighting hard. Everybody was fighting hard in that game.”
Garcia (5-4) took the loss for Miami.
Miami scrapped for a pair of runs in the top of the third. Alex Hernandez and Jacob Heyward led off the inning with singles, and Dale Carey followed with an infield hit to load the bases. Gossett then hit Zack Collins with a pitch to force in the game’s first run, and Heyward scored from third on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
The Tigers scored their first run in the bottom of the inning. Duggar led off with a base hit to center, moved into scoring position on Wilkerson’s infield single and a wild pitch, and scored from third on Jay Baum’s infield grounder.
Double plays proved kind to the Hurricanes, who stifled Clemson threats with twin killings in both the fourth and fifth inning. The latter double play came when Miami reliever Cooper Hammond induced Baum – the first batter he faced after coming on to replace ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year Chris Diaz – into a grounder to short.
But Baum atoned with the defensive gem of the tournament thus far in the top of the sixth. The Hurricanes’ Hernandez hit a shot up the middle that glanced off the second base bag. Baum, ranging to his left, fielded the ball the ball cleanly and fired in mid-air to nail Hernandez by a full step.
“Jay Baum's play up the middle was something you will see on TV later on tonight,” Leggett said. “It was an awesome play.”
The momentum carried over to the bottom of the sixth for the Tigers, as Jon McGibbon led off with a bomb that easily cleared the wall in right field and evened the score at 2-2. The home run was the senior first baseman’s third of the year.
Clemson loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth inning, but Garcia – the Hurricanes’ fourth pitcher of the night – struck out pinch-hitter Mike Dunster on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
The Tigers dodged trouble in the ninth after Miami’s Carey singled with one out and hustled around to third base following an errant pickoff throw by Clemson reliever Clay Bates. Carey was left stranded at third when Bates retired Tyler Palmer on an infield grounder and Moyer – the Tigers’ fourth pitcher of the inning – coaxed David Thompson into a ground ball to second for the final out of the half-inning.
“For Stevie to get the big hit and for Jonny to get the big hit, and (Gossett) to pitch the way he did, it's awesome evening for us, and we've got to put it behind us and get the first one for the next goal, and that is ACC Championship,” Leggett said. “It was an exciting game. If you want a milestone game, this would be the way you want it to end. I will remember it for a long time.”
Carey finished 4-for-5 at the plate to account for half of Miami’s eight hits. The Tigers had 10 hits, led by Wilkerson’s 3-for-5 performance.
With Wilkerson’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth, three of the eight games in the 2014 ACC Baseball Championship have been decided by one run, and five have been decided by two runs or less.