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May 24, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) - Harry Houdini pitched against Criss Angel in the ACC Baseball Championship on Thursday.
Although both had disappeared by the finish of the Virginia-Clemson game, they worked enough magic to keep their respective teams in it for seven innings. Ultimately, the Cavaliers won it 3-2.
Virginia junior Branden Kline took on the role of Houdini and Clemson freshman Daniel Gossett assumed the identity of Angel. Both extracted themselves from several perilous situations when it seemed they were doomed.
Their lines weren't pretty. Kline went seven innings, throwing 119 pitches, and allowed just four hits but walked five, made a wild pitch and hit a batter. Gossett threw 124 pitches in 6 2/3 innings and gave up four hits but issued six walks along with a hit batter and a wild pitch.
But the important thing was that each pitcher battled through the difficulties and was charged with just one run. The game was 1-1 when they left.
"I'm sure there were more than 10 runners left on base on each side (Clemson 11, Virginia 12) and that speaks to the level of the pitching that was out there today," said Virginia coach Brian O'Connor. "I thought Gossett was outstanding. He's got a really good arm and he's going to have a talented career in their uniform.
"I'm really proud of Branden. He went out there and gave us seven strong innings in a tournament where you have to win four games. You need somebody like your ace to go out there and go deep in the game and he certainly did a terrific job."
Gossett came into the game with six wins, but pitching in the ACC tournament is a different experience than the regular season. It was the first game for each team and it's extremely difficult to reach the championship game if you lose the first one.
Just before the game began, the young left-hander stepped off the mound and took a couple of deep breaths. He repeated that periodically during the game.
"It's the first time I've ever been at an ACC tournament and it was a heavy moment," Gossett said. "If I can step back and control my breathing, I pitch best when I'm relaxed.
"What gets me in trouble is the game moving fast, flying past me. It's only one pitch at a time; you can't let them run together. That's what we've been working on, the deep breaths, controlling my heart rate, controlling my emotions, staying in the game."
His initial test came in the first inning, when he gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with two outs. But he struck out Colin Harrington to end the threat.
Virginia reached Gossett for a run in the third on John King's RBI single, but he worked out of every other tough situation and pitched into the seventh inning.
"A freshman, (our) first game in the ACC Tournament, he went out there and did an excellent job for us," said Clemson coach Jack Leggett. "He got a little tired there at the end."
Gossett said his stuff was working well but he regretted not being able to stay in the game longer.
"I shouldn't have gotten tired," he said. "I should be working to keep my pitch count down so I can go later in the game. Walking batters, getting into hitter's counts - I just have to keep working to get better."
Kline, meanwhile, was living on the edge as much as Gossett. He dealt with his own bases-loaded situation in the third inning, thanks to three walks, but fanned Brad Felder to get out of the mess.
"I just tried to calm myself down," Kline said. "Usually when you walk more than one batter it's a mental aspect, so I just tried to take it one pitch at a time."
In the fifth inning Kline hit a batter, walked another and moved them up on the bases with a wild pitch. But he got Phil Pohl to hit a soft grounder back to him and the runners had to hold. Then he struck out Felder again to end the inning.
Kline's one mistake he couldn't correct came in the sixth inning when Jon McGibbon belted a home run to right field to tie the game.
He came back out for the seventh inning on what Connor called an easy decision.
"We're the home team, it's a tie ball game, he was at 103 pitches after six (innings)," the coach said. "The guy's your No. 1 starter, he's got to go out there and eat up another inning for us and hopefully we can take the lead and then give the game to our bullpen. So there was no doubt in my mind it was the right thing to do."
Kline allowed a single, a sacrifice and a groundout as a Clemson runner reached third with two outs, but he reached back and fanned Pohl for his fifth and final strikeout of the game.
"I made it a little bit hard on myself today," Kline said, "but at the same time give credit to our defense. There were a lot of balls by Clemson that were well-hit and luckily the defense was there to pick me up."
There wasn't one pitch he resorted to in the clutch, although the one that was most effective surprised him.
"I just like to slow everything down," he said. "You can't just have one pitch to go to so you've got to try to mix it up and make your pitches.
"I would have to say my changeup (was my best pitch today). It's probably the one time I've had my changeup the entire year. The slider wasn't working for me today and the fastball was off and on. The changeup was something I was able to throw to help slow down the Clemson batters, help slow down their feet and not just time my fastball."
In the end, neither pitcher was involved in the decision. Clemson took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, scoring on an error. Virginia came back with two runs in the bottom, patching together a single, a hit batter, a walk, and another hit batter to force in the tying run and a walk to force in the go-ahead run. All that came with two outs.
"We had them right where we wanted them, we just couldn't hold them down," Leggett lamented.
The Cavs finally nailed it down in the top of the ninth. Lefty Kyle Crockett retired left-handed Thomas Brittle and in came closer Justin Thompson. He worked carefully to power-hitting Richie Shaffer, who drew his fourth walk of the game. But Thompson induced Pohl to hit into a game-ending double play.
Clemson tries to regroup with a game against Florida State Friday at 3 p.m. Virginia, which won the championship last year and in 2009, will play Georgia Tech at 11 a.m.
"The years that we have advanced the deepest in our season we've won this tournament and we've played really good baseball in this tournament," O'Connor said.
"We don't think much about which games you have to win and the pool play and everything. It's just about going out and competing and playing good baseball, and hopefully after Saturday you're in a position to play for a title."
A little more magic wouldn't hurt, either.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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