Clemson pulls out ninth-inning heroics for win

May, 29, 2009
CLEMSON, S.C. -- When Clemson left fielder Jeff Schaus stepped to the plate with the top-seeded Tigers trailing No. 4 seed Tennessee Tech by one run in the ninth inning Friday, coach Jack Leggett wasn't exactly worried about winning the game.

"At that point, we were just trying to tie the score up," Leggett said. "We'd been trying to tie it for five innings. It was getting a little frustrating."

But Schaus did more than that, hitting a two-run double down the right-field line with one out to lead the Tigers to a 5-4 victory over the upstart Golden Eagles in an opening-round game of the Clemson Regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Schaus, a sophomore from Naples, Fla., smashed reliever Lee Henry's 1-1 pitch over the first base bag and into the right-field corner. Pinch hitter Addison Johnson, who led off the ninth with a single to left, scored from second base to tie the score at 4. Designated hitter Chris Epps, who had reached on a bunt single past the mound, scored the winning run from first.

"I knew [Henry] was throwing sliders to a lot of guys," Schaus said. "I was just looking for a ball up in the zone. He kind of hung one, and I was able to get enough on it to get it past the first baseman."

The Tigers seemed to do just enough to stay close to Tennessee Tech for much of the game before finally getting it done in the ninth.

Clemson advanced to play No. 3 seed Oklahoma State on Saturday night. The Cowboys were a 10-6 winner over No. 2 seed Alabama in Friday's earlier game.

The No. 4-seeded Golden Eagles and Crimson Tide will play in an elimination game Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

"I knew it was going to be a tough game," Leggett said. "We haven't had an easy opening game in the [NCAA] tournament since -- maybe ever. It was the kind of game I expected. I just thought we were a little rusty the first four innings. We weren't sharp in any facet of the game."

Clemson trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, after the Golden Eagles scored two runs off a wild pitch and an error by the Tigers. Schaus hit a solo homer in the fifth to pull the Tigers back within a 4-3 deficit.

"It was a little too close, but it's definitely nice to get the win," said Schaus, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs. "Going into the losers' bracket would have been tough."

Clemson improved to 16-0 in NCAA regional games played at Kingsmore Stadium.

"It's exciting to win in the ninth," Leggett said. "Hopefully, we'll get some momentum for tomorrow."

Tennessee Tech might not have much left in terms of starting pitching. Golden Eagles coach Matt Bragga gambled in trying to win Friday night's game, using his two best pitchers against the Tigers. Left-handed starter Ryan Dennick saddled the Tigers for much of the game, giving up only five hits and three runs in seven innings. Henry, who was 9-2 with a 2.96 ERA coming into the game, went the rest of the way, allowing three hits and two runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Clemson reliever Graham Stoneburner (7-3), who allowed only two hits over the last 4 2/3 innings, earned the victory.

"We were playing with fire, putting so many leadoff batters on," Bragga said.

And in the ninth, Clemson's hitters finally made the Golden Eagles pay for their mistakes.

"It was frustrating for a while," Leggett said. "We could have taken a different path to the end of the game, but our kids did a good job of staying focused."



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