It was one of the craziest days in the history of the Clemson baseball program.
The Tigers, the No. 1 seed in their own regional, were scheduled to start the day at 1 p.m. against No. 4 seed UNC Greensboro in an elimination game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Win that game and advance to the championship round of the regional against No. 2 Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. It was already going to be a long day. However, Mother Nature made it a little longer than expected.
Thanks to storms that were passing though the surrounding Clemson area, the NCAA delayed the start of the UNCG game by 4 hours and 49 minutes.
“It was stressful,” Clemson pitcher Tyler Jackson said.
It was even extra stressful for Jackson as he had to wait around the whole day not even knowing if he was going to pitch. The righty found out following the Tigers’ loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday that he would get the start should Clemson beat UNCG in the first game.
First came the first weather delay, which was announced at 12:32 p.m. It was delayed even more by two lighting strikes within a 15 mile radius of Doug Kingsmore and the game was announced to begin at 4:04 p.m., but that did not happen either. A second delay was announced at 3:19 p.m. and it was eventually announced the game was not going to start until 5:50 p.m.
When it finally did start the Tigers (42-20) rallied to beat UNCG to extend the season. After waiting all day Jackson finally knew he was going to get his opportunity against the Commodores.
“We had been here all day, from sun up to sun down so I was like, ‘I’m not going to go out there and lose this game.’ There was no way I was going to let that happen,” he said.
And he didn’t.
Jackson was magnificent as he painted both sides of the plate with his fastball, while limiting a Vanderbilt team that had scored 22 runs and had 34 hits in the first two games of the regional to two hits in a complete-game shutout.
“I played it like it was the last game that I am ever going to play,” Jackson said after the game ended at 1:03 a.m. “So I just went out there and tried to enjoy every moment.”
Jackson did not do it alone in Clemson’s 6-0 victory over Vandy. He got a little help from his defense, too. Right fielder Weston Jackson made two tremendous plays in right field to keep the Tigers in front when the game was still tight in the middle innings, while Reed Rohlman did the same in left with a diving catch in the fifth inning and then climbing the fence and robbing Will Toffey of a sure home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve the shutout.
Jordan Greene at second base also made a couple of head-scratching plays to help Tyler Jackson out.
“It was unbelievable,” the Clemson pitcher said. “Greeney’s play at second base was one of the best snags that I have ever seen then Reed out there with a diving-layout catch, it can’t get any better than that. Then that home run he robbed. I just don’t have words for it.”
Watching his teammates make plays like that pushed Jackson to record his first complete game of his Clemson career and his second of his college career.
“It is definitely extra motivation,” he said. “If they are going to work behind me, I’m definitely going to work behind them.”
Jackson admitted he was a little shaky when he started the game. He had not started since he pitched five innings against Coastal Carolina on May 16.
He opened the game by walking Toffey and then threw a wild pitch which allowed the Vandy third baseman to move to second. After a sac bunt by Ro Coleman moved Toffey to third base, Jackson got Jeren Kendall to strike out swinging and then Julian Infante grounded out to first base to end the only real scoring threat the Commodores had all night.
“I just kind of had to find my groove,” Jackson said. “When I got that last out, I knew I was kind of in control, and I kind of let it go.
“I knew with that runner on third and in scoring position with less than two outs and getting out of that, I knew nothing else could happen any worse.”
The Tigers will host Vanderbilt in the Clemson Regional Championship Game at 4 p.m.