Clemson pitched all three of its pitchers in a barn burner at Rhoads Softball Stadium as it bested Troy 4-2 to advance to the regional championship against No. 3 overall seed Alabama.
Mackenzie Clark delivered the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning with one out on a sharply hit infield single that scored Morgan Johnson to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Clemson added two more runs in the frame to extend its lead to 4-1 and held off a Troy comeback in the bottom of the seventh to advance.
Clemson used all three of its starting pitchers in the game to give Valerie Cagle a breather after pitching in the first two games of the regional.
Head coach John Rittman knew how important it was to bounce back after a 6-0 loss to Alabama earlier in the day.
“The toughest thing to do in a regional format is to come back after a tough loss,” Rittman said after the game. “We used up a lot of emotional, physical and mental energy in that first game against Fouts and a very good Alabama team.”
He credited the depth of his pitching staff for putting the Tigers in position for Sunday.
“You don’t make it to the championship game of a regional without a pitching staff,” he said. “We needed Millie and Reagan to suck up some innings in this game and they pitched their butt off.”
The Tigers improved to 44-7 on the season with the win. Cagle earned the win in the circle with 1.1 innings as she allowed one run on three hits with two strikeouts.
Millie Thompson started the game for the Tigers and allowed one unearned run on three hits in three innings. Reagan Spencer entered in relief and added 1.1 scoreless innings with one hit, no walks and two strikeouts.
The Tigers struck first in the bottom of the first with an infield single by Ansley Gilstrap that scored Casey Bigham to give them a 1-0 lead.
Gilstrap led Clemson at the plate as she went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. She took a loose approach at the plate as she stared down the potential end of her softball career as a sixth year player.
“For me there are no more games,” Gilstrap said. “We have a really young team and for them they can come back next year but for me there is no next year. It made me play more loose than anything because I won’t get this opportunity again.”
Troy responded with a run in the bottom of the third on an errant throw to second by catcher JoJo Hyatt. The throw came on ball four which gave the runner second automatically but it allowed Jade Sinness to come home and tie the game at one.
Clemson broke the game open in the top of the seventh with three runs on four hits to move ahead 4-1.
Johnson pinch hit and led off the frame with a double to left center then scored on a one out infield single by Clark to give the Tigers a 2-1 advantage.
Ansley Gilstrap followed with a sharply hit ball off the Trojan pitcher that got into the outfield grass and scored Clark from second to extend the lead to 3-1. Alia Logoleo got in on the action with another run scoring single to right field that gave the Tigers some insurance and a 4-1 advantage.
Troy made things interesting in the final frame with a leadoff single and an errant throw by Cammy Pereira that put runners on second and third with no outs. The Trojans shaved their deficit to 4-2 on an RBI groundout by Kelly Horne for the first out.
But Cagle got a line out and strike out to finish it off.
Clemson plays top-seed Alabama in the regional championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Rhoads Softball Stadium. The Tigers need to beat the Crimson Tide twice to advance to next weekend’s super regional.
—Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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