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Tigers open ACC Championship play with sixth straight win
DURHAM, N.C. (theACC.com) – Clemson ended the regular season in the midst of a winning streak and carried the momentum into its Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship opener.
The sixth-seeded Tigers pushed across the winning run in the top of the ninth inning to slip past third-seeded and defending national champion Virginia, 5-4, in the round-robin pool play opener for both teams Thursday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Chris Williams opened the ninth inning with an infield single for the Tigers, moved up on a walk and sacrifice bunt, then came home on Chase Pinder’s sacrifice to deep center to snap a 4-4 tie. Virginia pinch-hitter Kevin Doherty moved into scoring position in the bottom of the ninth on an infield single and a error, but All-ACC reliever Pat Krall (9-1) recorded the final two outs to secure Clemson’s sixth straight win.
Both teams continue Pool B play on Friday with Clemson (39-18) facing second-seeded Louisville (47-10) at 11 a.m., while Virginia (36-19) meets 10th-seeded Wake Forest (33-24) in the 3 p.m. game.
Thursday’s matchup between the Tigers and Cavaliers marked the first meeting between the teams since April of 2014, and the two nationally-ranked teams staged a battle worthy of the wait.
Virginia’s Daniel Pinero provided some early drama in the bottom of the second with a home run to left field that glanced off the “Hit Bull Win Steak” sign of Bull Durham fame. Pinero didn’t collect a free dinner, but he did knot the score at 1-1 to counter an RBI double by Clemson’s Weston Wilson in the top of the inning.
The Tigers scored three runs in the top of the fifth to reclaim a 4-1 lead. Mike Triller – a graduate student who originally joined the program as a walk-on and entered the ACC Championship with four hits in 25 at-bats this season – provided the big blow of the inning with a two-run homer to left. Pinder added Clemson’s fourth run when he drew a two-out walk, moved up on a balk and wild pitch, and then scored on Eli White’s double to left-center.
Virginia chipped into the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Matt Thaiss led off with a base hit off Clemson starter Charlie Barnes, and Pavin Smith followed with a double. Both scored on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Pinero and Adam Haseley to make it 4-3.
Thaiss greeted Krall in the bottom of the eighth with his 10th home run of the season to tie the score at 4-4, but Clemson had the final say in the ninth.
White finished 3-of-5 at the plate to account for half of Clemson’s six-hit total. Thaiss and Pinero each finished with two hits for Virginia. Tyler Shambora (5-1), the second of three Virginia pitchers who came on in relief of starter Connor Jones in the top of the seventh, took the loss for the Cavaliers.