Clemson needs two-run ninth to edge Tech, 5-4 in NCAA Regional

CLEMSON, S.C. – It took a two-run walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth inning for No. 14 Clemson to top the Tennessee Tech baseball team 5-4 Friday night to win in the opening round of the NCAA Regional tournament, in a game Tech led from the very start.

The Tigers led off the decisive ninth inning with a single from Addison Johnson, who was making his first at-bat of the game as a pinch hitter. Chris Epps followed that with a single of his own to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Lee Henry struck out Mike Freeman, before Clemson’s Jeff Schaus pulled through with the walk-off double that hugged the first-base line and made it all the way through to the right field fence.

Schaus went 2-for-5 in the game, hitting a solo home run in addition to his game-ending hit, finishing with three RBIs.

The Tigers’ leadoff batter reached base in the final seven innings of the game.

“There’s no question, against a great team like Clemson that is going to catch up with you,” head coach Matt Bragga said. “We played with fire, absolutely. A great team is finally going to take advantage of that.”

Alex Henry went 3-for-4 in the contest, and scored twice, while Chad Oberacker and Tate McMillan each went 2-for-3.

Tech got an early 1-0 lead with the help of back-to-back singles from Alex Henry and Oberacker to lead off the game, followed by a ground ball from A.J. Kirby-Jones. The Golden Eagles went up 2-0 in the top of the third inning when Heath Cheverton, Henry and Oberacker each singled in succession to start the inning.

Clemson got on the board in the bottom the fourth, cutting the lead in half with a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly in the inning, but the Golden Eagles pulled ahead 4-1 in the top of the fifth when back-to-back wild pitches allowed Alex Henry to score, after he reached on a single. Oberacker would score on an error on the very next play. But the Tigers wouldn’t go away, and cut the deficit to 4-3 in the bottom of the frame. That’s how the score stayed until the bottom of the ninth inning.

“I have to say it was a difficult game to lose,” Bragga said. “I felt like we had a chance to win it late, and didn’t. I think Clemson had a leadoff man on maybe six or seven inning out of the nine, and it is tough to win ballgames when that happens. I tip my hat to them, they did a great job. I’m proud of our guys and disappointed that we lost because we expect to win.”

Senior pitcher Ryan Dennick got the start for Tech, and pitched seven innings, allowing just five hits and three runs. Dennick struck out five batters and walked four, and was not the pitcher of record.

“I knew Clemson is going to be a great hitting team from the ACC,” Dennick said. “I got to mix my pitches really well, I can’t just keep feeding them fastballs because they are going to drive them all over the ballpark. I had to change it up and let my defense work, and that worked for most of the ballgame.”

“Ryan Dennick has come on strong for us late (in the season),” Bragga said. “He was a competitive type close for us, and late in the year we made an adjustment and this is his fifth start. He is phenomenal, and is going to get a chance at the next level, as he should. We have been blessed to have this young man in our program.”

Lee Henry took the loss for the Golden Eagles. He came in to pitch at the start of the eighth inning, and got three of his four outs by way of the strikeout. Henry walked two, and gave up two runs.

“This was a typical tournament game,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “Tennessee Tech did an outstanding job; they pitched well and kept us off balance. We couldn’t find a good hit, and had a rough eighth inning. We had a rough four innings. Tennessee Tech is well-coached and they played hard, and fortunately we came up with a big hit at the end.”

The Golden Eagles will face Alabama at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday in an elimination game. Alabama lost to Oklahoma State 10-6 earlier in the day.