Grayson Byrd rips a two run homer in Clemson’s three run third inning (David Hood/TigerNet)

Third-seed Clemson had big plays at the plate and in the field, plus excellent relief work from freshman Davis Sharpe, in piecing together an 8-4 win over #2 seed Illinois in the opening game of the Oxford, MS regional. The Tigers, who are now 35-24, advance to the winner’s side of the bracket and will face either Ole Miss or Jacksonville State Saturday night.

The third inning was the clear turning point of the game. The Illini led 2-1 as the Tigers came up in the top of the third. Michael Green erased that deficit with a solo homer. Two batters later Grayson Byrd flirted with the right field foul pole, but the fall stayed fair for a two run homer and a 4-2 lead.

The bottom of the inning saw the next critical move for Clemson. After starter Jacob Hennessy game up his third run, Monte Lee called freshman Davis Sharpe out of the bullpen for the first time this season. Sharpe lived up to his name allowing just three hits and 1 unearned run over the final 6.2 innings. He earned his seventh win of the season.

The Tigers’ defense also played a big role, particularly in the sixth when Illinois loaded the bases with one out. Sharpe induced a ground ball to second. Jordan Greene fielded and gave a quick feed to shortstop Logan Davidson covering the second base bag, and relayed to first for the DP and the rally-killer.

It was still a one run game going to the seventh when the Tigers sucked the drama out of the ballpark. Catcher Kyle Wilkie, who had four hits on the day, drove in two with a bases-loaded single. Another run would later score on a fielder’s choice and Clemson led 7-3. The Tigers tacked on another run in the 8th and the Illini pushed across their fourth run in the ninth.

The top four hitters in the lineup carried the offense. They combined for 10 of the Tigers’ 12 hits. Wilkie had his four hits and three RBIs, plus Byrd had three hits and three RBIs. Green had two hits and Davidson one.

Clemson coach Monte Lee confirmed after the game the staff’s #1 pitcher, Mat Clark, will start tomorrow night’s game. Clark is 9-2 with a 2.84 ERA and teams are hitting just .192 against him.

Final Box

Clemson postgame press conference (Monte Lee, Kyle Wilkie, Davis Sharpe, Grayson Byrd)