By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
For some reason the 14th-ranked Clemson Tigers keep finding ways to win, even when the situations look dire.
Trailing by two runs to USC Upstate and with two on in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday, Clemson freshman Kevin Bradley, who wasn’t even expecting to play when the day started, walked up to the plate just hoping to but the ball in play. He ended up doing more than that.
The Clemson first baseman instead took Chad Sobotka’s first pitch to deep left field. The ball, which took off looking like a sacrifice fly that was going to score Garrett Boulware from third, kept carrying, carrying and carrying until it eventually cleared the glove of left fielder Tyler Lesch and the wall. When Bradley got around the bases and touched home, the Tigers had an improbable 8-7 victory.
“I thought it was going to go from the beginning, mainly because of how hard the guy was throwing,” Bradley said. “I got a pretty good piece of the bat on it and I just figured with how hard he was throwing, I got it with the right trajectory and thought it had a chance.”
Bradley’s home run was the Tigers’ eighth straight this year and their 22 win in the last 26 games. It also marked their ninth victory in the last 10 games decided by one run.
“We have found a lot of different ways to win and have played in a lot of one-run ballgames,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “We have been in a lot of tough games… I have been on both sides of the coin. I know how painful it is to lose one of those.
“It was good to win it, now we can get on the bus and concentrate on (Florida State).”
Clemson (38-15) will take on the ninth-ranked Seminoles starting Thursday in Tallahassee, FL for a three-game series that could decide the ACC’s Atlantic Division title. A sweep and the Tigers are division champions and the two-seed in next week’s ACC Baseball Tournament in Durham, NC.
“We have our fate in our hands,” Leggett said. “It is about going down there and playing good baseball, playing confidently and playing like we can play. They are a good baseball team. They’re solid and they’re a team that has good pitching and some good offense. They have been playing well all year long.
“It will be a real good challenge for us.”
The win over USC Upstate was more dramatic than they hoped, but nonetheless it allowed the Tigers to keep the momentum it has earned before heading on the road to Tallahassee.
It’s ironic, however, that the guy who made the play was a young man who did not even know he was playing Tuesday until he got to the ballpark.
Regular first baseman Jon McGibbon, who had started all 52 games prior to Tuesday, came to Doug Kingsmore feeling under the weather and was sent home. Bradley, a .132 hitter coming in, was suddenly penciled into the lineup as the starter at first base.
“McGibbon was sick and was not feeling good at all so we sent him home,” Leggett said. “Kevin just happened to get a huge hit for us. Things are falling into place a little bit. He did a nice job for us filling in and that’s what this team is all about.
“We have a lot of depth on this team and we have guys that are ready to play. When someone is not playing well, injured or sick, someone has to step up for us.”
Besides his walk-off homer—which was his first of his career—he also had a hit to lead off the sixth inning. But in the ninth is where the magic happened.
Boulware got a lead-off single and then moved to second after Shane Kennedy hit into a force at second. The Clemson catcher then moved to third on a passed ball and Tyler Krieger walked on four pitches to set the stage for Bradley, who became the first Clemson player to make his first career home run a walk-off round tripper since Brian Kowitz did it against Georgia on February 25, 1988.
Bradley is only the fifth player in Clemson history to make his first career home run a walk-off one.
“I knew he just walked Tyler Krieger on four pitches so all that pitcher wants to do is start with strike one so I had a pretty aggressive mindset,” Bradley said. “I was just looking for a fastball over the plate and that’s what I got.”