CLEMSON- Going through the losers bracket in regional play is never easy, but that is the task Erik Bakich and his Clemson Tigers are facing after a heartbreaking 6-5 14-inning loss to Tennessee on Saturday night.
Despite getting a career high 8.2 innings from starter Caden Grice in the loss to the Volunteers, Clemson (44-18) went on to use another nine relievers in the extra inning affair.
“We just didn’t get it done and we got to live with that and know that we got to do it the hard way,” Bakich said. “That’s kind of what I told him at the end is we’re still alive. Even though we’re going to have to do it the hard way, we can. We can do it. And now the path goes through Charlotte and that’s where all of our energy is going to turn. We’ll figure it out, we’ll regroup and figure out how to go about that tomorrow at noon.”
With Austin Gordon having already started in the regional opening win over Lipscomb, Bakich finds himself debating over who start against Charlotte (35-27) in the ever-important elimination game on Sunday. One option is freshman Ethan Darden. The left-hander has been a staple of the Tigers’ weekend rotation over the back half of the season, serving as the Friday starter.
“I don’t know,” Bakich said. “I mean yeah, that would logically make sense, he’s a starter. It’s a Charlotte regional. But we also want to win it too. So I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. We may start Darden or we may start someone else. Joe Allen or somebody. I don’t know. We got to debrief as a staff here and figure it out.”
With their backs against the wall, it is a decision the head coach will not make lightly.
“I don’t know if we would pull the trigger on not pitching Darden against Charlotte,” Bakich said. “Knowing that it’s a do or die and survive and advance type of thing. And if you didn’t take that game, then obviously we would regret that. So we got some decisions to make.”
The 49ers staved off elimination earlier on Saturday by beating Lipscomb 9-2. Clemson knocked off Charlotte 9-5 in midweek action back in February. Darden came out of the pen in that game, allowing three runs (two earned) in 2.1 innings.
Bakich and the Tigers also go into Sunday’s elimination game knowing they will be without starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter Cam Cannarella. The ACC Freshman of the Year was ejected in the 13th inning of the loss to Tennessee and by rule, will be forced to sit out the matchup with the 49ers.
Cannarella is hitting .388 on the season, with 24 stolen bases. He drove in four of Clemson’s five run in the loss to the Vols, including a 3-run homer in the fifth, his seventh of the season.
“He’s a sparkplug at the top,” Bakich said. “One of the main reasons why we’re where we are. So someone’s gonna have to step up and fill that spot. Probably Nate Hall, he can play a decent centerfield. Someone will have to pick him up. But our guys will respond and he’ll be right back in there. But yeah, hate it for him. He’s a competitor. Love watching him compete.”
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