It is crazy how one play can turn an entire season around.
For the Clemson baseball team, that play came in Game 2 of its weekend series against Florida State on April 7.
“We just made a decision, if we are going to do this, we are going to do this by pulling out all the stops,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said.
Needing a spark, Bakich called for the old “hidden ball trick” with the Tigers up 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. After Cam Smith doubled to lead off the inning for the Seminoles, Nander De Sedas bunted Smith to third.
However, Clemson third baseman Blake Wright hid the ball and waited for Smith to let his guard down. When Smith stepped off the bag, Wright tagged him for the second out of the inning. The play proved to be big when Vincent Colton lined out to centerfield to end the inning.
Had Smith still been on third, he would have scored the tying run.
But that did not happen. Instead, Clemson broke the game open with a three-run sixth inning and went on to an 8-1 victory in Tallahassee, Fla.
“It was a cool moment. I had never been a part of one,” Clemson second baseman Riley Bertram said. “To see it actually work and for everything that has to go right for it to work. The umpires have to play it off too, then the pitcher and the guy that has the ball. That is fun.”
The Tigers were 17-14 win they ran the “hidden ball trick” at Florida State. Since then, they are 26-3 including a 22-2 mark against ACC competition.
The reason for Clemson’s success?
“There is nothing we will not do. In the (ACC) championship game, if you guys noticed, we ran a first-and-third half steal in the first inning. You know, like who does that? But we do,” Bakich said. “We started playing better once we started doing hidden ball tricks, gadget plays and having a little bit more fun playing baseball.”
The Tigers (43-17) plan on having some more fun this weekend when they host the Clemson Regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Clemson plays Lipscomb, the No. 4 seed, in Game 1 of the Regional, Friday at 1 p.m. Tennessee and Charlotte will follow at 6 p.m. in Game 2.
“I love it. We will have to keep that mindset,” Bakich said. “We are not going to add any expectations to this. We are going to keep playing like we have with house money because we do.
“Our season was over after 31 games. We were going nowhere fast. We know what the other side feels like. So, for us, we feel like we have nothing to lose. We are going to keep that mindset and keep having fun playing ball as long as we can.”
No one is having as much fun as Clemson right now. The Tigers enter the NCAA Tournament on a 16-game winning streak. They’ve won 21 of their last 22 games and just went 4-0 in winning the program’s 11th ACC Tournament Championship and 16th ACC Title overall.
When the 2023 baseball team at Clemson is remembered one day, the “hidden ball trick” is where the story will begin.
“That ended up also being a spark for us. After that play, we were pretty successful,” Bertram said.
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