Friedlander: Clemson's first loss in a month is a potential soul-crusher and other NCAA baseball regional takeaways
It was bound to happen sooner or later. It just happened at the worst possible time.
And in the worst possible way.
Clemson saw its 17-game winning streak come to an end Saturday with a heartbreaking 6-5 14-inning setback to Tennessee.
As bad as the Tigers’ 1st loss in more than a month was at face value – and it was a potential soul crusher – it could turn out to be even worse as they look to advance back through the loser’s bracket starting with a quick turnaround game against Charlotte on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Erik Bakich’s team led 4-1 heading into the 7th inning and was just 1 out away from closing out the Volunteers in the 9th.
But starting pitcher Caden Grice ran out of gas and reliever Ryan Ammons gave up a go-ahead homer to the 1st hitter he faced, Zane Denton.
Clemson did come back to tie the game in the bottom of the inning to keep hope and its winning streak alive.
At least for a few more innings. The wait only served to make the result more painful.
And that’s only half the story.
In addition to having to come back on short rest with their season on the line, the Tigers will have to do it with a taxed pitching staff. Although Grice ate up the 1st 8⅔ innings, Bakich used 9 other arms to get through the rest of the game.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that ACC Rookie of the Year Cam Cannarella was ejected from the game in the 13th inning for chirping at a Tennessee player as he ran off the field after an inning-ending double play.
It was a totally unnecessary ticky-tack call that didn’t just take the hottest bat out of the Tigers’ lineup – pinch-hitter Nathan Hall struck out to end the 13th in his spot – it also means that Cannarella will have to sit out Sunday’s game as well.
The timing couldn’t be worse.
The good news is that the Tigers still have a chance to recover. And that all 7 of the ACC’s other tournament teams are also still playing.
Here’s a look back at some of the takeaways from Day 2 of NCAA regional action:
Day 2 superlatives
- Wake Forest’s Pierce Bennett: 5-for-5, 2B, 5 RBI in a win against Maryland.
- Wake Forest’s Justin Johnson: 4-for-5, 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, 5 runs scored against Maryland.
- UVA’s Nick Parker: 7 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, 5 strikeouts in a win against East Carolina.
- Duke bullpen: 9 innings, 0 earned runs, 4 hits, 9 strikeouts in a win against Rider.
- Clemson’s Cam Cannarella: 3-for-5, 4 RBI, 1 run scored in a loss to Tennessee.
- UNC’s Max Carlson: 6⅔ innings, 0 runs, 1 hit, 5 strikeouts in a win against Wright State.
- Boston College’s Joe Vetrano: 4-for-5, 2 home runs, 5 RBI, 3 runs scored in a win against Nicholls State.
- Miami’s Rafe Schlesinger: 7 innings of relief, 0 runs, 4 hits, 9 strikeouts in a loss to Texas.
No Wake up call necessary
Clemson wasn’t the only ACC team to endure a long day’s journey into the night (and morning). Wake Forest had an even longer one. But it had a much happier ending.
It took 5 hours of waiting for the rain and lightning to stop for the winner’s bracket game against Maryland to even get started. Once the 1st pitch was thrown, it took almost 4 more hours before the issue was finally decided at just after 2 a.m.
The good news for the Deacons is that unlike Tigers, they’re able to sleep in on Sunday. That’s because Rhett Lowder was Rhett Lowder, the potent lineup behind him was especially potent and Maryland’s pitchers were incredibly generous by issuing 16 walks.
Wake jumped out to a 9-1 lead, survived a threat in the 7th and then put the Terrapins away by scoring 6 times in each of its final 2 at bats for a 21-6 win that sends them into Sunday night’s championship round.
And despite the late hour, a good time was had by all. Not just the players on the field. With the help of basketball coach Steve Forbes, who went on Twitter to urge fans to return to the stadium after the long rain delay, most of the sellout crowd re-filled the stands at David F. Couch Ballpark. Most stayed to the bitter end and helped to provide a raucous atmosphere.
FIRST PITCH 10:45PM pic.twitter.com/p0FF8YEIoT
— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) June 4, 2023
Thankfully, they’re able to sleep in, too. A lot of them are going to need it.
Survive, then try to advance
North Carolina and Boston College both lived to play another day by bouncing back from opening game losses to win their elimination games on Saturday.
That’s where the similarity between the 2 ends.
The Tar Heels extended their season by jumping on the back of junior right-hander Max Carlson, who shut Wright State out on just 1 hit for 6⅓ innings. His offense gave him all the support he and reliever Dalton Pence would need by scratching across a run on a double play ball in the 3rd before adding some breathing room on a Mac Horvath 3-run homer in the 7th on the way to a 5-1 victory.
The Eagles, meanwhile, trotted out their big bats for the 2nd day in a row. They scored 10 in an opening round loss to Troy. This time, 14 was enough to earn another elimination game on Sunday.
BC amassed 16 hits and 4 homers – including 2 more by Vetrano on the way to a 14-6 win against Nicholls State. Vetrano has 4 homers in 2 games at the Tuscaloosa Regional.
If the mark of a championship caliber team is its ability to win games in different ways, then chalk in the Cavaliers as a leading candidate to advance out of its regional and beyond.
On Friday, they pounded Army into submission by scoring 15 runs on 18 hits in their opening round NCAA Tournament win. Twenty-four hours later against a much more formidable East Carolina, they showed they’re just as adept at winning a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.
UVA managed only 6 hits and 2 runs against the Pirates – on a 3rd inning single by ACC Player of the Year Kyle Teel and an Ethan Anderson single in the 7th. But that was good enough to advance to the championship round thanks to the pitching of Parker and reliever Jake Berry.
Parker went the 1st 7, giving up only 1 run on 5 hits. Berry then earned the save with 2 shutout innings to finish things off.
Their work means that their team will have 2 shots at winning the 1 game standing between it and a trip to the super regionals.
One Devil of a bullpen
Duke coach Chris Pollard has been holding his patchwork pitching staff together with duct tape and bubble gum since ace Jonathan Santucci was lost for the season in early April. With only one consistent starter left with Luke Fox also on the shelf with Tommy John surgery, the Blue Devils have had to rely on a deep bullpen to carry them.
And it has come through in a big way.
Saturday against Rider, that collection of arms combined to get Duke within 1 win of advancing.
The quintet of Andrew Healy, Owen Proksch, Adam Boucher, Charlie Beilenson and Fran Oschell III ham-and-egged a masterpiece in which they collectively allowed only 4 hits and no earned runs while striking out 9 in a 2-1 victory against a team that beat the 3rd-seeded Blue Devils during a weekday game in Durham last month.
While the win puts Duke in an advantageous position to make it out of the region. The only question now is if it will have enough pitching left to earn the 1 win in 2 tries that stands in the way of a super regional trip.