OXFORD, Miss. — During this time of the year in college baseball, how a team responds to adversity can go a long way in what kind of run it can make in the NCAA Tournament.
Case in point, Clemson’s 8-4 victory over Illinois in Friday’s Oxford (Miss.) Regional at Swayze Field in Oxford. After falling behind the Illini by a run in the bottom of the second inning, the Tigers responded with a three-run third inning to regain the lead and never trailed again.
It was an inning in which Clemson showed off its power at the plate.
The Tigers, the No. 3 seed, came into the Oxford Regional as the best home run hitting team in the four-team field and ranked 11th nationally in overall home runs. Illinois, the No. 2 seed, came in with the best pitching staff statistically, while allowing the fewest amount of home runs.
However, in the third inning, Illini starter Ty Weber gave up two home runs, including a two-run blast down the right field line by first baseman Grayson Byrd, which gave Clemson a 4-2 lead at the time. Weber had allowed just three home runs all season prior to the third inning.
Lead-off man Michael Green opened the third with a solo home run to the opposite side in left center that tied the game before Logan Davidson drew a walk and Byrd hit his two-run shot.
“I think it was big. We talk all the time about responding,” said Byrd, who went 3-for-5 and drove in 3 runs. “Then the second they score a run and went up on us, it was big for Mike to hit that home run and tie it back up.
“Then I was up and was trying to put a good swing on a pitch. I thought it was going to go foul, but I think the wind kept it in a little bit, so I’ll take it. It was big. It was a lot of fun. It was a good inning.”
It was a lot of fun, especially for Clemson’s top of the batting order. Green, Davidson, Byrd and catcher Kyle Wilkie combined to go 10 of 17 with 2 home runs, 7 RBIs and 8 run scored.
“When you get that type of production from one through four in your lineup, you are going to score runs,” head coach Monte Lee said. “We had some good at-bats by the bottom of the order, too. But the name of the game, offensively for us, was one through four did some really good things today.”
Wilkie led the Tigers (35-24) with a 4-for-5 day at the plate, while driving in three runs. The junior also had a double in Friday’s victory.
It’s the second straight game Wilkie has dominated at the plate for Clemson. He also drove in three runs in last week’s win over Louisville in the ACC Tournament, including a home run and another double.
“I am feeling pretty good. I am just trying to go up there and be on time,” he said. “That is my whole deal. As long as I am on time then everything can work like it is supposed to and you can see the ball better. That is what I have been working on.”
And it has been working for the Tigers, who will take on top seed Ole Miss tonight (7 p.m.) in Game 4 of the Oxford Regional.