CLEMSON — Heading into last week’s Clemson Regional, No. 16 Clemson lost four of its previous six games.
People were questioning if the Tigers might make it out of their own Regional, especially with SEC runner-up Auburn coming to town. Auburn had SEC Player of the Year Maddie Penta in the circle and her top 12 earned run average.
Clemson was not exactly hitting the baseball at the time. It was no hit by Duke in the ACC Tournament Semifinals and had just four hits in eight innings to knock off North Carolina in the quarterfinals.
However, there was a reason for Clemson’s struggles. And it was a good one.
In Clemson’s win over South Carolina on April 11, it lost catcher Aby Vieira to injury. The All-ACC caliber catcher missed the following 13 games, through the ACC Tournament.
What hurt the most was Vieira’s .306 batting average missing from the lineup. Without having her bat, the Tigers went 8-5 in those 13 games. Coincidence?
“We missed her. We missed her big time,” Clemson head coach John Rittman said. “When you take a bat out of the line up like hers and somebody who does such a great job with our pitching staff, it is tough.”
It was obvious in the Clemson Regional just how much the Tigers missed their starting catcher. With Vieira back in the lineup for all four of Clemson’s regional games, it looked like the old Tigers out there, as they went on to win three of their four games to advance to the Norman (Oklahoma) Super Regional.
Clemson won its second straight NCAA Regional Championship on Sunday with a 5-1 victory over Auburn in the championship game.
“It was a huge boost. Aby and JoJo (Hyatt) are two quiet leaders in our program. They don’t say a lot, but when they do talk, people listen,” Rittman said. “JoJo stepped in and did a fabulous job for us defensively. This weekend we got Aby back and JoJo went to the DP role and continued to produce for us.”
Clemson (49-10) finished the weekend with 37 combined hits in four games, three more than it had in the previous six combined. The Tigers also produced 15 hits and scored 10 runs on Penta, who had 1.33 earned run average.
Against Clemson, Auburn’s ace had a 4.81 ERA in 13 1/3 innings of work.
“Anytime you can beat a pitcher, that has been named SEC Player of the Year, twice in the same weekend, that is pretty good offense,” Rittman said. “We certainly scored in different ways. We scored by the home run. We manufactured some runs. That is just a testament to our offense, our grit and our determination. We never quit at the end of the ACC Tournament after getting no hit by Duke. We came back to work, and we were really prepared for this weekend.”
Hyatt is second on the team, only behind ACC Player of the Year Valerie Cagle, with a .341 batting average. As the designated player (DP), she bats behind Vieira in the lineup, giving the Tigers three players at the bottom of the lineup, including Reedy Davenport (.304), that are hitting above .300.
“It said a lot about JoJo, but really the key to our offense was getting Aby back in the bottom part of the lineup to give us some punch down there,” Rittman said.
Game times for Norman (Oklahoma) Super Regional:
No. 16 Clemson at No. 1 Oklahoma
Game 1: Friday, 2 p.m. (1:00 PM CT)
Game 2: Saturday, 1 p.m. (Noon CT)
Game 3: If necessary, Sunday, TBD ET/CT
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