Clemson was left for dead in the sixth inning after St. John’s pitcher Jeff Belge struck out Seth Beer for the Tigers’ second out and still trailing by two runs.
The strikeout was the lefty’s ninth of the afternoon, tying a career high. Through the first 5 2/3 innings he allowed just two hits. Even though Logan Davidson and Chris Williams had drawn walks earlier in the inning, it seemed like all was lost when catcher Kyle Wilkie stepped into the batter’s box with two outs.
Wilkie, who was 0-for-2 against Belge to that point, worked his way to a full count when he finally got a hold of one of the lefty’s pitches and drove it to deep left field. The ball hit off the wall and bounced over leftfielder’s Mike Antico’s head, allowing both Davidson and Williams to come home and tie the game.
Wilkie’s hit was the jolt Clemson needed as the Tigers got two more runs after that in a four-run sixth as the top-seed rallied to stay alive in the Clemson Regional with an 9-8 victory Sunday in an elimination game.
Clemson scored its last eight runs with two outs. With the win, the Tigers (47-15) advance to play No. 2 Vanderbilt tonight at 6 p.m.
“We battled today. Things were not going our way,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said afterward. “Belge, I thought he was outstanding today. St. John’s has a heck of a pitching staff and they have a heck of a ballclub. They certainly gave us all that we could handle.
“Our guys fought and they certainly fought with two outs in the sixth. We had a couple of walks and then Wilkie had a tremendous at-bat.”
For more than half of the afternoon, St. John’s controlled things. Clemson could not touch Belge as he gave up just two hits through the first five innings at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. He did not allow a single hit until Seth Beer hit a solo home run with one out in the fourth inning.
However, the Tigers started to figure things out in the sixth inning and took control of the game.
Trailing 3-1 Davidson got a one-out walk and then Williams kept the inning alive by doing the same thing one batter later with two outs. With the count full, Wilkie smashed Belge’s pitch to deep left field, where it bounced off the wall for a standup double, allowing both Davidson and Williams to come home to tie the game.
“The one thing Kyle does better than anyone on our team, is he hits well with runners in scoring position,” Lee said. “He is the best hitter in our lineup with runners in scoring position. He hits .400-plus with runners in scoring position, better than anyone on our team.
“When he is coming up in that situation, you feel pretty darn good about it.”
Wilkie’s hit, which extended his hitting streak to 28 games, ran Belge out of the game, allowing the Tigers to take advantage of the Red Storm’s tired bullpen.
Clemson took the lead on the next at-bat when Drew Wharton singled through the left side off reliever Joe LaSorsa to bring Wilkie home. Wharton later scored on a wild pitch to extend the lead to 5-3.
Then with two outs in the seventh inning, Williams drove in two runs with a single to left field, scoring Sam Hall and Kier Meredith, for a 7-3 lead.
Beer hit his 56th career home run in the fourth inning when He sent the 1-2 offering from Jeff Belge to left centerfield to get top seed Clemson on the scoreboard. It was the Tigers first hit of the day.
The home run was also Beer’s 22 of the season and his 56-career home runs are the most in the country among active players.
Ryan Miller earned the win for the Tigers. He came on for starter Jacob Hennessy with one out in the second inning and shut St. John’s down. The righty pitched 5 2/3 innings, while allowing 10 hits and four runs after coming in for Hennessy. It was a great performance by the senior which allowed the Tigers to save their pitching for tonight’s game with Vandy.
“It says an awful lot about Ryan Miller for us to win this ballgame,” Lee said.
The Red Storm (40-17) took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Josh Shaw hit a two-run home run to left field and one batter later Luke Stampfl hit a Hennessy pitch off the top of the Chapman Grandstands in left.
From there Miller took over and Wilkie pulled the Tigers through.