By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
DURHAM, N.C. – With two outs and Shane Kennedy standing at second base in the bottom of the 13th inning Friday in the ACC Tournament, Thomas Brittle ripped a shot down the first base line that appeared was going to give Clemson the victory. But North Carolina first baseman Cody Stubbs reached his glove up and just barely snagged the ball out of the air to end the inning.
“There was a lot of close plays in that ball game, and that was one of them,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said.
That was the last chance the Tigers had to make one.
Stubbs, who singled to centerfield to lead off the 14th inning, slide around a tag at home on a Mike Zolk fielder’s choice to the mound for what turned out to be the game-winning run. Chaz Frank then broke it open with a base clearing triple as No. 3 UNC rallied for an improbable 12-7 victory over 14th-ranked Clemson at Durham Bulls Park in Durham, N.C.
The 14 innings tied for the longest game involving Clemson in ACC Tournament play, while setting a new mark for length of play in the all-time series against North Carolina. The previous record against UNC was 13 innings, while in 1986 the Tigers beat Wake Forest in 14 innings, 6-5, in the ACC Tournament.
“It was a tough ball game. That’s all there is to it,” Leggett said. “We played hard. We were right were we needed to be, but we just could not hold onto it. We had some opportunities in the extra innings there, but (North Carolina) did a good job battling back and did what they had to do to get themselves back in the ball game.”
Though the game meant nothing to North Carolina after NC State eliminated the Tigers from the tournament with a victory over Miami earlier in the day, it meant a lot to Clemson. Thanks to Virginia Tech’s advancement to the ACC Championship game on Sunday with wins over Virginia, Florida State and Georgia Tech, the Hokies are making a serious push at taking away a home NCAA regional from Clemson, which this time last week looked like a lock to be the fifth team from the ACC to host a regional.
But with four straight losses, including Friday night’s collapse Clemson’s chances of hosting seem slimmer than ever before.
“It’s the last thing on my mind right now,” Leggett said. “We just need to focus on winning ball games one at a time. We have played a really good rash of games and playing against good ball clubs all along and it’s a really good conference.
“I hope we still can. You know we went into extra innings with North Carolina and ended up on the bad side of things, but that should not determine what happens next weekend or any other time. This is a tough tournament and there are some very good teams in this tournament so I would hope we still have an opportunity there.”
Through eight innings it seemed getting a sure win over North Carolina was a sure thing. The Tigers (39-19) dominated UNC through the first eight innings as they outhit, outpitched and outplayed the Tar Heels in building its five-run lead.
“Every game means everything to us,” right fielder Steven Duggar said. “We expect to win every game and it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We control how we play. It’s just frustrating because tonight we fell just a little bit short.”
The Tigers had taken a 7-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when Jon McGibbon and Thomas Brittle scored on two errors by Stubbs on a Maleeke Gibson roller to first base.
But the Tar Heels tied the game at 7-7 in the top of the ninth with a five-run inning, including a three-run bomb from Brian Holberton to right center field with two outs on a 3-1 count from reliever Scott Firth. The senior righty had come in after fellow reliever Matt Campbell gave up two runs and left him with runners on first and second and one out.
“It’s frustrating because it’s not over until the last out,” Duggar said. “They were able to build an inning and ended up capitalizing. It was just frustrating. That’s all.”
It’s frustrating because Duggar, Mike Triller, Tyler Krieger and Maleeke Gibson—all freshmen—were responsible for six of Clemson’s seven runs, while fellow freshman Zack Erwin worked into the sixth inning while limiting the Tar Heels’ powerful hitting lineup to two runs on five hits.
Duggar and Triller each drove in two runs, while Krieger and Gibson had one each. Gibson and Triller both had two hits as well.
The Tar Heels (50-8) got four hits from Stubbs to go along with two runs batted in, while Landon Lassiter had three hits and an RBI. Holberton had two hits and four RBIs. Frank had three RBIs to go along with his two hits.
Clemson will try and bounce back and get that elusive 40th win against Miami this afternoon (3 p.m.) Like the Tigers, Miami is also looking for its first win in the 2013 ACC Tournament.
“We have to put this behind us and get ready to play (today),” Leggett said. “We can’t let this leak into (today). Hopefully, this will make us a better team before it is all over. We have seen a little bit of everything this year. We have been in some tough close ball games so hopefully it will help us down the road.”