DURHAM- N.C. — It was Rhett Aplin’s two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth inning Saturday that scored the game-winning run as No. 7 Florida State defeated third-ranked Clemson 5-4 in the semifinals of the 2018 ACC Baseball Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.
Despite the Tigers’ loss, starting pitcher Jake Higginbotham pitched his team all the way into the seventh inning, allowing three runs on four hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
“You’re not always going to have your best stuff, and it’s very rare that you do, that everything is clicking,” Higginbotham said after the game. “Like I said earlier, it’s just we preach compete every pitch, and I’m out there fighting for my teammates, fighting for my coaches, fighting for the name on the front of my jersey.
“Every single pitch is the biggest pitch of the game, so that’s kind of the way I look at it, and if you can approach every single pitch that way, it’s the most important pitch, then you’re going to have success more often than not.”
Clemson head coach Monte Lee was proud of Higginbotham for the way he battled and executed all night long.
“We felt like once we got down to the right-handed hitter with Flowers, then that was the spot to bring in (Carson) Spiers at that point,” Lee said on why he kept Higginbotham in the game after throwing 104 pitches through the first six innings. “Just with (Drew) Mendoza and with (Steven) Wells, Mendoza and (Reese) Albert, we felt like it was a good matchup for Jake. He had been executing pitches.
“Mendoza is a really good hitter. He put one good swing on him early, but besides that, I felt like Higgy had done a nice job with him and we felt like it was the right matchup at that point to send him back out there.”
In what was an intense and emotional, close game, Lee was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the eighth inning.
“You know, I thanked (Lee) after the game for going to battle for us,” Higginbotham said. “Everyone in the dugout is competing, everyone on the field is competing. Sometimes emotions run high. It means a lot that he’s going to go to battle for us, and he’s got our backs and he’s out there competing just as hard as we are.”
At the time of the ejection, Ryley Gilliam was pitching with the bases loaded and no outs. After the ejection Gilliam got two strikeouts and a groundout to get out of the jam.
“We compete on every pitch, that’s one of the staples of our program,” said Higginbotham. “To see our head coach do it, I think it gave us a little energy jilt and helped Ryley get out of the inning. It was a big deal for our dugout at the time.”
It just wasn’t enough.