CLEMSON — With two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth inning, Blake Wright took a first-pitch fastball from North Carolina pitcher Matt Poston and drove it through the left side of the infield. The clutch hit from the third baseman brought home Caden Grice from second base with the winning run, as No. 7 seven Clemson beat North Carolina 5-4 Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“We did not panic at all,” Wright said after the game. “We trust our training. We review those situations all the time in our training every day of the week. So, we felt prepared. There was no panic at all. We knew we were going to get the job done.”
It was a nutty ending to what was a thrilling pitching duel for much of the night. Ryan Ammons earned the win for the Tigers, while Poston suffered the loss for UNC.
The win marked Clemson’s 11th straight and 16th in the last 17 games. The win also locked the Tigers into the No. 3 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament.
North Carolina (33-21, 14-14 ACC) tied the game in the weirdest of ways in the top of the ninth inning. Leading 4-3, Ammons came in to save the game and induced three pop ups. However, all three were lost in the night sky, which was at twilight.
“I felt bad because Ryan Ammons was doing exactly what he needed to do. He was inducing weak contact, and nobody could see what was going on,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said.
Alberto Osuna popped up near the mound, but catcher Cooper Ingle, second baseman Riley Bertram nor Ammons could find the ball, which dropped right in front of Bertram. The Clemson second baseman, however, did make a heads up play and threw Osuna out as he tried to sneak his way to second base.
“We do have a gadget play where we intentionally drop a pop up, but that wasn’t it,” Bakich said with a grin. “When it is twilight like that (in practice) we immediately hit pop ups and do pop-like-communication. We can’t catch them in practice either because nobody can see it.”
They could not see the pop ups in Friday’s game, either. Colby Wilkerson popped up to third base, but shortstop Benjamin Blackwell lost the ball and it dropped between him and third baseman Blake Wright.
After Casey Cook popped up to third for the second out, Jackson Van De Brake popped up to short centerfield. However, Bertram nor Cam Cannarella could find the baseball and the ball harmlessly fell between them, allowing Wilkerson to beat the relay throw home, tying the game at 4-4.
“Every time the sun is out, and it is a blue sky, I don’t know. All I know is that you can’t see it. I heard some fans saying that when foul balls went up, they could not see it either. I heard some other fans telling us to get our head in the game,” Bakich said laughing. “Believe me, we were trying. That was not a lack of effort, but more of a lack of vision.”
The Tar Heels scored first when Patrick Alvarez lifted an Austin Gordon one-out pitch to left field for a three-run home run in the top of the second inning.
Clemson rallied in the bottom of the third inning to tie things at 3-3. After loading the bases on a hit and two walks, Caden Grice was hit by a pitch with two outs to plate one run and then Amick followed with a two-run single through the right side.
The Tigers (38-17, 19-10 ACC) grabbed the lead, 4-3, in the fourth when Cannarella flew out to left field with one out to score Wright, who singled through the left side to start the inning.
The Tar Heels had several chances to tie or take the lead late in the game. They loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning with two outs, but reliever Reed Garris got Mac Horvath to fly out to deep right to end the threat.
The Tar Heels got a leadoff walk from Tomas Frick in the top of the eighth and moved him to second with one out. But Garris retired the side by forcing Hunter Stokely to ground out to second base, Johnny Castagnozzi to ground out to third and Alvarez to fly out to left.
Stat of the Game: Both teams finished the night 9-for-34 with runners on base.
Player of the Game: Clemson pitcher Austin Gordon did not get the win because of the way the ninth inning went, but he pitched well in another no-decision. After giving up the three-run home run in the second inning, Gordon did not give up anything the rest of the way. He pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits, while striking out five and walking two.
Key Moment: With the bases load and two outs for UNC in the top of the seventh inning, Garris came into the game and was able to get Horvath to fly out to deep right to end the inning and preserve Clemson’s 4-3 lead.
Up Next: Clemson will host North Carolina in the final game of their three-game series on Sunday. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.
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