Clemson’s Valerie Cagle hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday, lifting the Tigers to an 8-7 victory over Virginia in their first Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Trailing 7-4, Clemson rallied with one run in the fifth inning and two in the sixth to tie the game, setting up Cagle for her dramatic game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh inning at the Clemson Softball Stadium in Clemson.
With two outs and no one on base, Cagle took a fastball to deep centerfield for her seventh home run of the year. As she rounded third and headed home, her teammates waited patiently to mob her after she touched home plate with the winning run.
“I’m just looking for a fat pitch,” Cagle said after the game. “If it’s not a fat pitch just don’t swing at it. While that (home run) is what you’re going to remember from the game, it was really a big team win with multiple comebacks.”
It was the Cavaliers (8-6, 0-1 ACC) who started the game scoring and in quite an interesting way. After singling and advancing to second on an error, Virginia’s Ashley Jennings took advantage of Clemson’s sloppy fielding in the top of the third. With Jennings stealing third, the Tigers infield had trouble handling the ball leading to Jennings advancement to home and a UVA 1-0 lead.
Just an inning later, UVA applied more pressure to Clemson (12-7, 1-0 ACC). After a base hit for the Cavaliers, Emma McBride was sent in to pinch run for UVA and was able to steal second just moments later. Seeing a runner in scoring position, Jennings stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun off the foul post, extending Virginia’s lead to three.
Clemson wouldn’t go down quietly though, as the Tigers put together a nice bottom of the third run to make it a game. Clemson’s Alia Logoleo got the girls started sending a shot off the left field wall for a double. Following in Logoleo’s footsteps, Bailey Taylor stepped up and hit a deep double to center, sending Logoleo home and putting the Tigers within two.
A couple batters later after Arielle Oda reached base on an error and Cammy Pereira was hit by a pitch, Grace Mattimore stepped up to bat for the Tigers with a runner in scoring position. Taking advantage of her opportunity, Mattimore sent a beamer down the left base line for a double, sending in both Oda and Pereira and tying the game at three.
Determined to keep the run going, starting pitcher Cagle sent Mattimore home with an RBI single, the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
“What a comeback win for the Tigers tonight, I’m very proud of the team,” Clemson head coach John Rittman said. “We didn’t fall apart when adversity hit. Obviously, we’re a very good hitting team and defensively we had to make a change tonight due to injury. I felt Valerie pitched extremely well even with her pitch count running.”
It was only a momentary lead for the Tigers though, as the Cavaliers opened the top of the 5th inning swinging. Clemson did themselves no favors as well, putting together their sloppiest defensive performance of the game.
Retiring their first batter with ease, the Clemson defense fell apart, recording four errors in the inning alone. After a throwing error at shortstop put a runner on first, Virginia’s Tori Gilbert doubled to right center scoring one, while advancing to third on another error along the way. She later scored on an unearned sacrifice fly to right field, extending the Cavaliers lead.
Following up with another error at short by Oda, Kate Covington further extended the Cavaliers lead doubling to right center, sending in yet another run.
With momentum riding against them, the Clemson defense dug themselves into a deeper hole allowing Arizona Ritchie on base with a throwing error that advanced her to second and ended up sending Covington home as well. This gave UVA a 7-4 lead with momentum shifting back there way.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve had innings like this this year,” said the head coach. “It’s becoming a little bit of a trend for us where we can’t stop the bleeding and it’s not difficult plays, it’s routine plays. It just seemed like the wheels went off, but we went out there and settle the girls down and were able to get out of the inning.”
Opening the bottom of the 5th, Clemson’s MK Bonamy got the Tigers going with a base hit. Following up with back to back strikeouts, UVA pitcher Mackenzie Wooten did Clemson couple of favors. Later hitting JoJo Wyatt and walking Oda, Wooten further helped the Tigers by walking Pereira. This sent Bonamy home, putting the Tigers down 7-5. From this point on, it was all Clemson.
“We’re a good offensive team,” said Rittman. “We can score runs, get our hits and we know that hitting is contagious. When we swing at good pitches and our approach is positive, we put runs on the board. That’s the biggest thing is the belief in ourselves, our players just find a way to put good bats together.”
Starting the top of the 6th down two, Clemson elected to hand over the circle to Emma Whitfield and boy did it pay off as she retired the first three batters she faced. With Whitfield slowing down the Cavaliers momentum, the Tigers took advantage in the bottom of the 6th.
Opening the inning with a Cagle single, Marissa Guimbarda stepped up to bat and was walked for the third time of the day, putting two on with no outs. A fielder’s choice and a walk later, the Tigers had the bases loaded with one out and Hyatt up to bat. Dropping in a floater to center field, Hyatt sent one run in, putting the Tigers within one. Bailey Taylor would send in the tying run the next play on a fielder’s choice.
WIth Emma Whitman continuing to do her thing, Clemson went into the bottom of the 7th tied at 8 with the game in their hands.
“Emma Whitman was huge for us tonight,” said Rittman. She’s a really good pitcher and has been really good from the bullpen these past couple weeks. I felt like the change of pace with Valeria and Emma and how different of pitchers they are would throw Virginia off.”
The Tigers will face off against UVA once again Saturday, February 28th, at 1 p.m. in Clemson.