FSU advances to Sunday's ACC Championship Game
DURHAM, N.C. — Clemson had several opportunities to take down sixth-seeded Florida State Saturday in the semifinal round of the 2018 ACC Baseball Championships at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C., but in the end it was the Seminoles that found a way to get it done.
In one of the classics between these two rivals, Rhett Aplin’s two-out single through the right side in the top of the ninth inning scored Mike Salvatore with the game-winning run from second as FSU knocked off the Tigers, 5-4, to advance to its fourth straight ACC Championship.
“The biggest difference was we had some opportunities to score some runs and we just did not do it,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “We just did not come up with a sac fly or a base hit with runners on base in a couple of situations and that was really the difference in the ballgame.”
The Seminoles (42-17) have won 14 of their last 15 ACC Tournament games. They will play No. 5 seed Louisville Sunday in the ACC Championship Game.
For Clemson, its ACC Tournament run comes to an end as the Seminoles snapped its eight-game winning streak. Saturday was the third one-run game of the season between these two teams.
The Tigers (45-14) now wait for Monday to see if they will be a national seed. The Tigers are a lock for a regional bid. FSU definitely helped its case for a national seed with its win.
Florida State took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning when Drew Mendoza took a Jake Higginbotham 3-2 offering and sent it to left centerfield.
Chris Williams put Clemson on top of Florida State in the bottom of the fourth inning with a three-run bomb over the tall video board in left field.
Kyle Wilkie got things started with a base hit through the right side to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. Seth Beer then followed with a five-pitch walk, setting up Williams for his home run.
Williams took Cole Sands’ fastball down on a 1-1 pitch to deep left field and over the tall video board, giving Clemson a 3-2 lead.
It was the Tigers’ eighth home run of the ACC Championships.
Jake Higginbotham did his part to pull the Tigers through. The lefty pitched a strong 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits, while striking out five.
“Jake Higginbotham gave us a great start,” Lee said. “I thought he threw very, very well.”
With the Seminoles up 2-0 in the third and fourth innings, Higginbotham found himself in a jam in both innings as he gave up a lead-off doubles. However, the lefty got out of both situations by striking out the side.
Higginbotham would have been in line for the win, but Clemson head coach Monte Lee gambled and lost in the top of the seventh inning when he gave up a lead-off walk to Drew Mendoza, who later scored on a wild pitch from reliever Carson Spiers. Higginbotham finished the game with 113 pitches.
The Tigers had their opportunities to take control of the game in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings but they could only get one run home. In the sixth, they got runners on first and second with one out after Beer drew a walk and Williams doubled off the wall in left field, but Patrick Cromwell struck out and then Drew Wharton flew out to centerfield to end the inning.
Clemson loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning, but only one run crossed home plate and that came when Beer had a great at-bat to draw a walk, scoring Adam Renwick. However, Wilkie struck out swinging and Williams watched a third strike from C.J. Van Eyk to end the inning.
“The biggest difference is we had some opportunities to score some runs and we just did not do it,” Lee said. “There were a couple of little things we needed to do a better job of.”
FSU tied the game in the top of the eighth inning with a lead-off home run by Jackson Lueck off Clemson reliever Carson Spiers. It then loaded the bases with no outs on closer Ryley Gilliam, but the righty struck out Mendoza and Reese Albert to get the first two outs and then he got J.C. Flowers to ground out to end the threat.
Gilliam’s three outs were sparked when Lee was tossed from the game after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire David Savage. It was the second time Lee was ejected from a game in his Clemson career.
The Tigers’ skipper threw his clipboard emphatically and then raced out and got in Savage’s face.
“Obviously, I cannot comment on the situation, but at that point I was pretty fired up. That is about all I can say,” Lee said.
The Tigers again had a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth when it got a one-out walk from Wharton and Robert Jolly got a hit up the middle. However, Sam Hall grounded into a putout at second base and then Greene hit into a force at short leaving the runners stranded at second and third.