Resilient Clemson Baseball Bows Out of Supers in Thrilling Game 2 Loss to Florida

Another raucous crowd of over 6,000 fans at Doug Kingsmore Stadium welcomed their home Tigers with hopeful optimism to have a reason to come back to the ball park on Monday. It wouldn’t be enough, as Clemson Baseball would fall short 11-10 on a walkoff hit by Florida’s Michael Robertson in the bottom of the thirteenth inning – which included a game-tying home run by Cam Cannarella in the ninth and a solo home run to take the lead by Alden Mathes in the final inning.

When asked about Erik Bakich‘s counterpart Kevin O’Sullivan yesterday after the loss, he had this to say: “Nothing.” Today’s handshake at the plate was noticeably more icy, with Bakich’s Tigers against the ropes. Clemson would hope the home plate officiating would give a favorable strike zone as well, as Bakich would spend a little more time with the officials before returning to his players in the dugout. That gesture wouldn’t make much of a difference on this day, with all of the pauses and ejections seen throughout the game.

The designated away team would be the Tigers, wearing their purple jerseys opposite the Florida’s off-colored orange. Mathes would start the game against the pitching version of Jac Caglianone, who beat Clemson on a go-ahead 3-run homer on Saturday. He’d fly out to left fielder Tyler Shelnut for the first out of the game. Jacob Hinderleider would then ground out, but not before Blake Wright would send a ball to deep left where Shelnut couldn’t make the catch. Jacob would be on second for Cannarella, looking for a redemptive game two after an 0-4 game one. He’d ground out to second, however, and the side would be retired.

Enter freshman Aiden Knaak for the Tigers. He’d face Cade Kurland to start, who he’d hit on the first pitch. With Kurland on first and no outs, Caglianone would send his 0-1 pitch 432 feet over center for another home run in this series. Ashton Wilson would fly out, and Colby Shelton would strike out. Luke Heyman would ground out to Hinderleider at short, and Knaak would get the next three batters in order to end the inning and hope to put the 2-0 deficit behind him.

Jimmy Obertop would strike out to Caglianone to lead off the second inning. Tristan Bissetta would do the same on a 3-2 count. However, with two outs, Jack Crighton would hit a ball into the left center gap to leg out a double. The game would get a bit tumultuous after this.

Nolan Nawrocki, standing in for Jared Jarrell in the designated hitter spot, would hit the ball on an excuse-me swing up the first base line. Caglianone would field it, and run into Nawrocki for the tag. A shove between the players would ignite a bench-clearing from both teams, and after a very long review with much speculation, Crighton (who came around third during the play and approached the altercation) was ejected. Boos would reign down for every pitch afterward, as the Tigers in the stands felt they had a reason to give a problem to the officials.

In the bottom half, Knaak would start his second inning by getting a flyout to Cannarella in center. He’d walk Dale Thomas on a full count, but strike out Brody Donay and Robertson back-to-back to end the visitor’s half – giving the home crowd more reason to cheer, and to jeer.

Caglianone would start the third inning by walking Jarren Purify – much to the joy of the 45 “umpires” behind home plate. Mathes would ground out to second, but moved Purify into scoring position for Hinderleider. He’d send a ball to the wall in right center for a double, scoring Purify and handing the bat to Wright. After an offensive timeout by Bakich, Wright would crush a ball to dead center for his 22nd home run of the season, giving the Tigers the early 3-2 lead. Cannarella would ground out to second for the second out, and Obertop would strike out for the third – but the damage had been done. The Tigers would give Knaak a lead to work with going into the home half.

At the top of the Florida order, Kurland would send a single into center field. Caglianone would be up and met with plenty of boos before striking out to Knaak, Aiden’s fourth of the afternoon. After Kurland stole second on a wild pitch, Wilson would ground out to Wright at third for the second out while keeping Kurland in place. Shelton would drive another ball to right center, however, and tie the game on the score of Kurland. With two outs, Heyman would send a ball to deep left center, but shallow enough for Cannarella to make the catch at the wall and end the inning, tied at three a piece.

After a strike out from Caglianone by Bissetta to start the top of the fourth, freshman Tryston McCladdie – in for Jack Crighton at first – would hit the ball well but fly out to left for out number two of the inning. Nawrocki, in his first at bat since the scuffle, would fly out to sit the Tigers down in order. Knaak would strike out Shelnut next, followed by a ground out by Thomas on a great play on the ball from Purify at second. Donay would hit it to Wright at third, who would also make a great play on the ball to end the inning.

Back at the top of the Gator lineup with Kurland, he’d force a full count. The infield Tigers would visit Knaak before the eventual walk. With one out and a runner on base, Caglianone would again enter the batter’s box much to the chagrin of the home crowd. Clemson would intentionally walk Jac, not giving him a chance to beat them again. Now with two on and one out, Wilson would take a ball to the shoulder and load the bases for the Gators. Shelton would be up next, and he would deliver with a hit that would drop in right center and score two for Florida. That would be all she wrote for Knaak (4.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), where Bakich would give Reed Garris a chance to get the Tigers off of the field. He’d strike out Heyman for the second out, and, despite the steal of second from Shelton, strike out Shelnut to end the inning and the second real Gator threat of the day. Florida would lead Clemson 5-3 after five.

Cannarella would lead off the sixth facing Caglianone, who would hit it well – but not high enough out of the reach of Shelton at short. With one out, Obertop wouldn’t go down quietly: he’d hit it deep to left for a solo homer and bring the Tigers back within one. Bissetta would strike out for the second out, bringing up McCladdie for his second shot at Caglianone. He’d draw a two-out walk and pass the bat to Nawrocki. That would be the last of Caglianone on the mound (5.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K), prompting Sully to bring in freshman Jake Clemente. He’d get Nawrocki on a great play by Kurland in the hole for out number three.

To start the bottom of the sixth, Thomas would single up the middle, which would cue Donay’s 2-run homer to right to stretch the Florida lead. That would send Bakich out to have Garris pulled (2 H, 2 ER, 2 K). Enter junior Austin Gordon. Robertson would leg out an infield single, but Gordon would get a strike out of Kurland for his first out, cuing Caglianone. He thinks the ball hits him off of the ground, but the officials would go to review to confirm. After Jac was granted first and took his base, Gordon would strike out Wilson for the second out, and follow that by getting Shelton fanning for out number three. The Gators would strand the runners and give the Tigers a striking chance at their 26th comeback of the year.

After a slightly uneventful seventh inning, In the eighth, Cam Cannarella would finally deliver in this super regional. After Wright advanced to second on his hit to third and a bad throw by Thomas, Cam would hit a ball into shallow left center to score Wright and shorten the deficit to two. Obertop would draw a walk from Clemente, who would now have two on base and no outs in the inning. That would end the short appearance of Clemente (1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 3 K), with yesterday’s hero Brandon Neely taking the mound instead. Bissetta would strike out for Neely’s first out, but McCladdie would come up clutch by hitting a slow roller into right field to score Cannarella from second. Down one run and with two runners on base, both Nawrocki and Purify would fly out to Wilson in right to end the Tiger threat.

Facing 9-1-2 of the Gator order, Gordon would start the home half of the eighth by striking out Robertson. Hinderleider would make a great catch at short to prevent the base hit from Kurland for out two. Clemson would intentionally walk Caglianone, leaving Gordon to deal with Wilson instead. With two outs, Wilson would crush a ball over the scoreboard in left center and make it 9-6 Florida. Gordon would strike out Shelton and give the Tigers one more chance in the ninth.

Mathes would follow his 3-for-5 day yesterday by starting 0-4 today, lining out to second for the first out of the ninth. Hinderleider would single into right, however, and keep the Tiger season alive. Wright would follow that with a single into center, passing the bat to Cannarella. After Sully visited Neely at the mound, Cam would deliver. On his first pitch, Cannarella sent a no doubter out to the Cajun Cafe and tied the game on a 3-run home run. Obertop and Bissetta would both strike out looking to end the top of the ninth, but the home crowd was now back on its feet – leading with a cadence count loud enough to be heard in Pendleton.

Gordon would face Heyman to start the final frame. He’d get rung up looking for Gordon’s eighth strike out of the game, and Shelnut would also strike out – this time swinging on a curve ball in the dirt. With one out to go, Thomas would line a ball to Purify over second base to get the Gators sat down in order. On to extras we would go.

To start the tenth, McCladdie would ground out on a soft-hit ball to first. Pinch-hitting for Nawrocki would be senior pitcher Ty Olenchuk, which would make for his first at-bat of the season. He’d work the count full before striking out looking. With two outs, Purify would ground out to second to end the visitor’s half.

Gordon would take the mound again in the tenth, and proceed to pick up his tenth strike out on a looking Donay. Sully would then visit the home umpire, asking the officials to check Gordon’s hat for an illegal substance. He’d be cleared, and then get Robertson to ground out to first. Kurland would hit a hard ball down the third base line that Wright couldn’t handle, giving the Gators a runner on second with two outs. Caglianone would get the intentional walk, giving Wilson the chance to be the walk-off hero. He’d hit a ball over the head of Cannarella in shallow center – but that wouldn’t deter Cam. He’d make the Willie Mays-like catch over the shoulder at the wall to end the inning and extend the game.

Austin Gordon’s spectacular day would be over in the bottom of the eleventh (5.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K), as the Tigers would put their faith in sophomore Billy Barlow to end the game on the mound. Facing Shelton, he’d force the pop out to Bissetta in left. Against Heyman, Barlow would get his first strikeout, but against Shelnut he’d pitch a full-count walk. Now with two outs, Thomas would also walk – this time on four pitches to give Donay a chance to win the game with a runner in scoring position. Barlow would be done, however (0.2 IP, 2 BB, 1 K), and hand the ball over to freshman Drew Titsworth. With two on and two outs, Donay would pop out to shallow right and we’d continue on to the twelfth.

Neely would come off of the mound (4.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 5 K) and hand the ball over to freshman Frank Menendez. He’d immediately walk Obertop, putting Clemson in a position to take the lead. Bakich would recognize the moment, calling an offensive timeout to rally his troops. Bissetta would set up to bunt, but draw two low pitches from Menendez. Sully wouldn’t wait, pulling Menendez (0 IP, 1 BB) for another freshman in Luke McNeillie. He’d force Bissetta to hit into the 4-6-3 double play for two quick outs in the inning. McCladdie would strike out, and the Gators would have momentum back in the dugout.

In the bottom of the twelfth, Robertson would draw a leadoff walk from Titsworth. Bakich would take the ball right then (0.1 IP, 1 BB) and give it to sophomore Ethan Darden for the top of the Florida lineup. Kurland would fly out, albeit less dramatically, to Cannarella in center. Caglianone would get his chance, finally, but would swing through three pitches for the Darden strikeout. Next, and oddly enough, a bouncer from Wilson near second base would cause a collision between Purify and Hinderleider, pausing the game to check for injury – but giving Florida two runners on second and third. After a long delay to check on Jarren, he’d walk it off and play would continue. With two outs, Shelton would strike out and into the thirteenth inning this game two would go – lasting a staggering seven hours and fifteen minutes at that point.

Olenchuk would get a second chance, and immediately get hit by a pitch from McNeillie. Purify would get the bat after a Bakich timeout. Devin Parks, running for Olenchuk, would then get thrown out by catcher Donay after a long lead from first. Purify would pop out to left on the next pitch, giving Mathes a chance to get his first hit of the day. And would he ever: a long shot to deep right would give Alden the solo homer and the late lead for the Tigers, 10-9.

Officials would gather and toss Mathes for excessive celebration, as well as an embolded Jack Leggett for talking back to the umps and then eventually Bakich for defending his players. This would get the Clemson crowd more rowdy than ever before – Especially after the head coach’s approach to the umpires and then a cheer for the crowd – making the Tiger crowd go ballistic, at best.

Back to the game, Hinderleider would line a ball to the leaping Kurland to retire the side. Clemson would now need three more outs to see a rubber match on Monday.

Darden would face Heyman, who had previously been 0-6 on the day. He’d get a ball past Hinderleider in short for a lead off runner. Shelnut would follow that with a hit of his own, giving Thomas two runners and no outs. After the mound visit, Darden would try to shut things down. Thomas would lay down the sacrifice bunt to move the runners and bring up Donay. They’d intentionally walk him, putting the force at every base. It would be Robertson with the chance to send the Gators to Omaha – and he would get it done. A deep shot into the gap in left center field would score two and Florida would walk it off in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Winning their ninth straight supers, Florida will head back to the College World Series looking for redemption from last year’s winner-take-all loss to LSU. Clemson will go home upset and disappointed, maybe mostly due to how it happened – but not without their heads held high. The first super regional appearance in more than a decade, this Clemson program should be proud of the way these “cardiac cats” fought through adversity and injury to leave the Tiger fans hopeful for future seasons.

After the game, an emotional Blake Wright would credit Florida for the win and thank his coaches for a great season. Austin Gordon would add that he was proud of Jack Leggett for his emotion and how it kept the team going. Jimmy Obertop would say that they wished they had made it to Omaha, but that the program has a bright future moving forward. About the Bakich ejection, all three would agree that it was great to see him fight for his players and reignite the crowd in the waning moments of the game. Due to NCAA rules, he was held out of the post-game press conference.

Michael Robertson would speak on feeling like their backs had been against the wall all season, so the “underdog” role headed to Omaha is normal. Coach O’Sullivan would include that he was “floored” by Cannarella’s catch in center – as were all of us.

Clemson Baseball || Wright, Gordon, Obertop - 6/9/24

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