Bakich Explains Decision to Take Grice Out of Clemson’s Loss to Vols

CLEMSON — Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said star two-way player Caden Grice did exactly what the junior pitcher needed to do to give the Tigers a chance to beat Tennessee on Saturday night in the winner’s bracket NCAA Regional game. 

Grice struck out 10 batters and got within one out of a complete game, but Bakich made the decision after Grice gave up back-to-back two-out singles to turn to closer Ryan Ammons. 

It’s a decision that didn’t work out. Ammons got two high fastballs past Tennessee’s Zane Denton, but the third attempt got parked in the left-field seats for a go-ahead three-run homer. 

The Tigers would get a run back in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, but the Vols would go on to prevail 6-5 in 14 innings

Could the game have gone differently if Grice had stayed in the game? Possibly, but Bakich said it would’ve gone against his staff’s philosophy on pitch counts. 

“(Grice) seemed to get stronger and maintained his velo and his stuff,” Bakich said. “Personally, I’m one of those coaches that are a little bit hypersensitive to pitch counts that get elevated. We don’t really take guys north of 100 very often. He got north of 100 and then it was 110. 

“He wanted to stay out there and maybe we should’ve left him out there to do it. He certainly physically can do it, but that was my decision to take him out.”

Grice entered the ninth inning of his masterful performance against a potent Vols lineup having only allowed two runs on four hits. He was at 98 pitches to start the frame, but his breaking ball with a fastball that was still topping out at 92 mph in the ninth had kept the Vols at bay. 

The two runs he allowed were both solo home runs, but Tennessee was threatening in the biggest game of the season so far. It was a tough decision either way.

Ammons was simply unable to get one more pitch past Denton, and while maybe he got greedy sticking with the fastball that Denton eventually timed correctly, Ammons is a guy Bakich has no trouble backing. 

“Look, we’ll ride or die with Ryan Ammons any day of the week,” Bakich said. “He’s a captain, he’s a warrior, he’s a stud of a kid and you know, got the guy to 0-2 (count) and just made a mistake with one pitch and the guy hit it out, to his credit.”

Bakich was forced the rest of the game to get creative because Grice moved to first and star hitter Billy Amick came out of the game, leaving the pitcher to hit in the five spot in the lineup for the all of extra innings. 

Bakich describes 10th-inning process

The loss puts Clemson in an elimination situation with the season on the brink when it takes on Charlotte on Sunday at noon. But there were other times the hard-fought game with the Vols could’ve gone the Tigers’ way. 

One of those came in the 10th inning when Clemson loaded the bases with nobody out. Then with one out, Benjamin Blackwell came to the plate. Even though Bakich likes to get creative in certain situations with base runners, he opted not to let Blackwell attempt a squeeze bunt or even show bunt. 

The shortstop grounded into a double play that at first was ruled a fielder’s choice and would’ve been a walk-off, but the throw to first was reviewed by officials and overturned, extending the game. 

“We’ve never bunted with the bases loaded just because the force out at the plate if it’s a bunt back to the pitcher,” Bakich explained. “We’ve never done that. I know other teams have done that. We’ve heard about other teams doing that. I think people have done it against us. 

“Personally can’t pull the trigger on that. I would trust our guys with the bases loaded, but if it was first and third or just a runner at third only or second and third, then yeah we could drop one down and steal a run, but all I saw was him ending the game and doing the job. We had it bases loaded, no outs. I mean it was right there.”

Bakich said in retrospect that he could’ve had Blackwell show bunt after doing so led to a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the previous two at-bats.  

The Tigers are left wondering “what-if” after the Vols scratched across a run in the 14th and advanced to Sunday’s 6 p.m. game while Clemson has to win twice to extend the season into Monday. 

“To keep it that close that long, just really a really good college baseball game, it sucks we have to be on the wrong end of it,” Bakich said. “But I’m proud of our pitchers, proud of the way they came in and competed for the most part.”

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