When he reached down and picked Eli White’s low throw out of the dirt, Chris Williams did not realize how big of a play it was in No. 19 Clemson’s, 3-2, victory in 10 innings over No. 22 Boston College. But as he walked over to the dugout and was greeted by all of his teammates, the magnitude of the moment hit him.
The Eagles had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the 10th inning when catcher Nick Sciortino hit a grounder to short. White’s throw to first was low, but Williams was able stay with it, as he prevented two runs from scoring.
“If he does not pick that ball right there, that changes the game. It tells you how big the little things are in this game when it comes to defense,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
The little things could be measured in a lot of ways. Twenty-four hours earlier, Williams did not imagine if he would even be playing in Game 3 of the weekend series. He had lost his starting position the week before to Andrew Cox, who had produced seven hits and five RBIs since taking over at first base on March 11 at Wake Forest.
For the first time in his life, Williams found himself sitting on the bench in the dugout instead of on the field. It was a tough pill to swallow.
“I had to sit there and really think about what I could do to get myself better,” he said.
What Williams discovered was the lack of confidence in himself.
“One thing I look at and admire about Rudy is his self-confidence,” the sophomore said. “I have been teaching myself to be more confident in myself and to play loose.”
In talking with his parents, Williams said they thought he was pressing and was not playing with any confidence, especially at the plate. That showed with his .135 batting average. He came into Sunday’s game with just one hit in his previous 22 at-bats.
“I had to slow things down. When I went back and looked at film, I could see that everything I was doing was in a hurry” he said. “When I sat back in the dugout and saw how successful we are as a team, I noticed all of the successful players were slowing the game down.”
Now knowing what his issues were, Williams believed if he got the opportunity again he could be successful. His opportunity came on Sunday.
Cox, who will miss the next four to six weeks, fractured his foot after being hit by pitch in Saturday’s win over BC. Several hours later, Williams received a text message from Lee telling him to get himself ready to start Sunday’s game.
“I was already helping my friend by catching in the cage, but then I grabbed the bat and started working to make sure I was ready for today,” he said. “Last night I made sure my process was to just stay loose. This is just another day and to just help my team win.”
Williams did more than help the Tigers win he played a big role in why they won.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Clemson down 2-1, he singled up the middle, allowing K.J. Bryant to come home with the tying run. It was the first run Williams drove home since the Tigers’ Feb. 27 win over James Madison.
It was also his second hit of the day, marking his first multiple-hit game since Feb. 21 against Maine.
“He is a huge reason why we won the game today,” Lee said. “I texted him last night when we found out Rudy was going to be out and said, ‘Hey man! You have an opportunity to get back in there and get it going.’
“Chris Williams is a guy that I have a lot of confidence in. I saw him play in the fall and in the preseason and he showed he can play and he can play at a high level. He just started slow and struggled at the plate up until today. That’s baseball. It’s going to happen. Everyone goes through it. When we needed him the most, he stepped up big for us today.”
And nothing was bigger than the way he picked White’s throw in the dirt to end the Boston College 10th. By the way, the first person to congratulate Williams as he made it over to the dugout was Andrew Cox.
“It felt really good,” Williams said.