DURHAM, N.C.- Once again, Caden Grice did it on the mound and at the plate for Clemson.
The left-handed hurler struck out nine hitters across seven innings of work and also drove in a pair of runs to lead the three seed Tigers to a 10-4 win over seven seed North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Championship on Saturday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The win moves Grice to 8-1 on the season and extends Clemson’s second longest active winning streak in the nation to 15 games.
“The start we got from Caden Grice, quality start. Seven innings, really good team, a really good offense, to allow some solo runs here and there, just pitched very well,” head coach Erik Bakich said. “Three pitches for strikes. Just attacking and getting ahead all day. Just a really good. job.”
Tristan Smith and BJ Bailey each pitched an inning of relief to finish it off.
Billy Amick drove in four runs, going 2-for-4, including his 12th home run of the season.
“Our entire pitching staff, our entire defense,” Bakich said. “Just made some good plays today. Some running catches in the outfield, some good infield play.”
The Tigers improve to 42-17 this season and move on to the championship game on Sunday, while the Tar Heels fall to 35-22.
North Carolina starter Connor Bovair didn’t make it out of the first as he allowed five runs on five hits while recording just two outs. He drops to 4-4 this season. The Heels would go on to use eight more pitchers, with five of those not making through a full inning of work.
Clemson pounced on the Heels early, plating five runs in the bottom of the first. It all started with Cooper Ingle’s one-out single to left. Will Taylor would follow that up with a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line that put runners on first and second. Grice then doubled down the right field line, driving in both runners and giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Clemson then got back-to-back long balls from Amick and Blake Wright. Amick’s was a 2-run bomb that went off the legendary bull out above the left field wall. Wright’s, his eighth, was an opposite field solo shot out to right and put the Tigers up 5-0.
“We were able to get the five spot early, that was big,” Bakich said. “Anytime you can jump out to an early lead like that, it allows everybody to settle in and settle down.”
North Carolina responded in the top of the second, getting a one-out RBI double from Hunter Stokely to cut Clemson’s lead 5-1.
Amick was at it again in the bottom half of the inning. With one out and runners on second and third, he hit a triple off the wall in dead center, giving the Tigers a commanding 7-1 lead. Ingle added an RBI single in the third to push it to 8-1.
Alberto Osuna’s opposite field solo shot in the fifth, his 10th long ball of the season, cut the Clemson lead to 8-2. In the sixth, Tomas Frick hit a solo shot of his own, to make it 8-3. It was Frick’s 11th home run of the season.
In the bottom of the sixth Clemson would add to its lead as Cam Cannarella drove in two runs with a triple into the right-field corner, making it 10-3. It was Clemson’s third triple of the game, setting a tournament record.
Frick’s second solo homer of the game in the ninth pulled North Carolina to within 9-4.
“A very well-played game from a pitching, defensive and offensive standpoint,” Bakich said.
Player of the Game: The honor no doubt goes to Grice. The junior held North Carolina to just four hits while striking out nine in seven strong innings of work. He also drove in a pair of runs with his double in the first.
Stat of the Game: With the win Clemson will appear in the championship game of the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2016. Bill Wilhelm, Jack Leggett and Monte Lee all won ACC Championships in their first seasons as head coach. Bakich will look to continue the trend.
Injury Report: Ingle left in the third with what looked like a lower leg injury. He fouled a pitch off of his right knee. He stayed in and poked an RBI single back up the middle but was barely able to get down the line. Jack Crighton would come in to pinch run.
“No updates yet,” Bakich said. “He fouled a ball off his knee so he is icing it right now. Hopefully the swelling is down tomorrow. I mean he is moving it around right now so probably just a bone bruise. Hopefully he will be good to go but we won’t know until tomorrow.”
Up Next: The Tigers will face four seed Miami on Sunday with the ACC Championship on the line. First pitch is set for noon, and the game will be televised on ESPN2
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