By Will Vandervort
COLUMBIA — In each of the first five innings Sunday, Clemson got its lead-off runner on. Only once did one of those runners cross home plate.
That seemed to be the difference in a 3-1 loss to Liberty at Carolina Stadium and why the Tigers’ season has come to a close in the Columbia Regional.
“We had some opportunities,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “We had six lead-off guys on base and we just could not come up with the big hit today. That was the story of it.”
While the Tigers struggled to bring home runners, Liberty (36-28) took advantage of its opportunities. The Flames got a lead-off runner on to start the bottom of the fourth inning and brought him and another one home when Bryan Aanderud singled to left field. In all, Liberty had four straight hits in the inning to grab the lead.
The Flames added another run in the bottom of the fifth inning when Trey Wimmer, who burned Clemson on Friday with a home run and a double, flew out to centerfield to score Ashton Perritt from third.
“We had several opportunities to maybe finish them off and to their credit we could not do it,” Liberty head coach Jim Toman said. “Give Clemson credit for fighting. They were one hit away in the ninth inning from possibly ending our season.”
It appeared Clemson was in for a big inning in the top of the fourth when Steven Duggar led off the inning with a double and then scored on a Garrett Boulware single to left field. Ahead 1-0, Boulware moved to second on a wild pitch and then Shane Kennedy reached and moved to second on an error by third baseman Jake Kimble, and a lazy play by left fielder Justin Sizemore, who failed to get the ball in.
But the Tigers (40-22) failed to convert when Tyler Krieger lined out to second and then Joe Costigan did the same. The threat ended in controversy because second base umpire Dave Condon and first base umpire Doug Williams failed to rule Costigan’s hit to second a line out at the time.
Boulware moved home on the play and Kennedy went to third and when Boulware was chased down on a run down between third and home, Toman wanted an explanation as to what happened on the play because he thought Aanderud had caught the ball.
“I don’t think anyone knew what was going on,” Toman said. “I asked Bryan when he came in if he caught it and he said he did not know. I was like, ‘If you don’t know, how does the umpire know?’ He said, ‘I thought I got my glove under it, but there was a lot of dirt in my glove.’ So he did not know if he caught the ball or not.’”
After a brief conversation, the umpires ruled in Toman’ favor and Flames pitcher Trey Lambert got out of the jam with no more damage done.
“I thought it was a short hop and he trapped the ball,” Leggett said. “The unfortunate thing about it was we had men on second and third so we were going on down-angle contact. If we are out at the plate, it’s no big deal. We get caught in a run down and we end with runners on first and third and we make them make the toughest play in baseball.
“The unwritten part of it is that when it is a short hop you treat it as a line drive and we got caught in between there and caught in the middle. (Boulware) thought it hit the ground. I thought it hit the ground. I thought we were okay. We still have runners on first and third with two outs now so it was not that big of a deal. But the problem was, we had men on second and third with nobody out and we had to score.”
But the they did not, primarily because Liberty took a chance and brought the infield in, which surprised Leggett. It ended up working out for the Flames.
“I don’t think that was something I would have done because if the ball goes through, now you have two runs scoring with no outs. But it just happens we hit a line drive to second base and we hit a one-hopper, or whatever it was to second base, which was unfortunate.
“If we get the ball to the outfield and score a couple of runs it can probably break the ice and change the whole complexion of the game.”
Clemson threatened again to score in the top of the eighth inning when Duggar and Boulware had back-to-back two-out hits and then got to second and third on a wild pitch, but Perritt, who moved from right field to relieve Lambert, got Kennedy to strikeout looking to end the threat and the Tigers hopes of continuing their season.
“It has kind of been the same story for the last week or so,” Boulware said. “We get them in scoring position and for whatever the reason we can’t get the big hit. It is no one’s fault in particular. We all want the hit and we all want to score the runs, but it just isn’t falling right now and I was really hoping it would kind of come through today like it did yesterday, but for some reason things were not going our way.”
Clemson left eight runners in scoring position overall and finished the day 1-14 with runners threatening to score. The game ended with Thomas Brittle flying out to right field with runners on first and second base.
“It is pretty tough to lose and tough to end the season that way,” Leggett said. “We will rebound and we will be ready to play next year. We will be back. There are a lot of good things ahead of us.”
But they will have to wait at least until 2014 to see those results.