LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The No. 14 Clemson Tigers were not cruising in Tuesday’s ACC Tournament game against Duke, but they had control of the game.
Then they lost focus.
Two inexcusable errors, including one in the top of the eighth inning, allowed the 9th-seeded Blue Devils to rally for a 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Clemson at Louisville Slugger Filed in Louisville, Ky. With the loss Clemson was eliminated from any possibility of defending its ACC Championship from last year.
The Tigers (39-18) had a 3-1 lead going into the fifth inning when leftfielder Reed Rohlman dropped a routine flyball with two outs.
Then, with the game tied at 3-3 in the top of the eighth, Clemson’s biggest blunder occurred when right fielder Weston Jackson ran into second baseman Jordan Greene, causing Kennie Taylor’s popup down the right field line to fall out of his glove and in fair territory.
“Jordan was calling the ball and Weston was calling the ball, too, but I think Weston called it a little too late,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “I don’t think there was anything Jordan could do. I don’t think he could peel off of it and get out of the way at that point.
“It was probably more of Jordan’s ball and was probably an easier play for Jordan even though Weston got there. It seemed like they collided as the ball was hitting one of their gloves.”
On the next at-bat, Michael Smiciklas doubled down the third-base line to score Griffin Connie from second and then, after a Clemson pitching change with two outs, Jalen Phillips singled to right field to bring two more runs home for a 6-3 lead.
Five of Duke’s six runs came with two outs and just three were earned.
Early in the game, it looked like Clemson was going to run away with the game. After Blue Devils (29-27) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, on Jack Labosky two-out hit to right field in the top of the first inning, it did not take Clemson too long to respond.
On Mitch Stallings’ second pitch of the game, Tigers’ lead-off hitter Chase Pinder hit a solo home run to left field to the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the first inning. It was Pinder’s seventh home run of the season and his 31 RBI.
Just like Pinder did in the first inning, Andrew Cox did the same in the second for Clemson. On Stallings second pitch of the inning, just like Pinder did, Cox launched a bomb. However, Cox’s went over the right field wall to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead at the time.
The home run was Cox’s sixth of the season and was his 32 RBI.
Shortstop Logan Davidson produced the Tigers’ third solo home run of the game on Stallings. Davidson went long to left field in the bottom of the fourth inning to give Clemson a 3-1 lead over the Blue Devils.
The home run was Davidson’s 11th home run of the season and his 37th RBI. Davidson’s shot to left field came on a 2-0 pitch from Stallings.
Duke cut the lead to one run in the top of the fifth inning when Rohlman dropped a Chris Proctor flyball to left field with two outs, allowing Smiciklas to come home with the second run.
The Blue Devils then tied the game in the top of the seventh inning. With two outs, Jimmy Herron singled through the left side off reliever Alex Eubanks to bring home Max Miller from third base. Miller drew a one-out walk and then Proctor singled to right field with two outs to keep the inning alive.
Clemson starter Charlie Barnes left the game after six innings of work despite throwing just 86 pitches. Barnes, who had his sixth no-decision of the season, had four strikeouts and no walks.
“We took Charlie out at 86 pitches because he was on four days rest,” Lee said. “He had not pitched on four days rest all year and we felt he had done his job. Anytime you take a pitcher and you pitch him on short rest, you have to be aware that the pitch count matters.
“We were hoping to get 80 pitches max and we got 86 out of him. He did his job.”
Barnes’ four strikeouts gives him 109 strikeouts for the season, the most by a Tiger since Kris Benson had 204 in 1996.
Barnes allowed just one earned run in six innings of work while giving up six hits.
Clemson will play No. 10 Virginia on Friday at 11 a.m. The Tigers will need a win to keep their hopes alive for hosting a regional.