DURHAM, NC: Clemson never flinched. Despite blowing an early lead and falling behind Miami (FL) and facing the prospect of dropping their first game in a month, Clemson never flinched. Two relievers entered and didn’t have their best stuff, but Clemson never flinched. Instead, Clemson did what their fans have become accustomed to, and kept stacking quality at-bats one after another until someone delivered the big blow to lift the Tigers to a 11-5 victory to claim their 11th ACC Championship, Sunday.
The uppercut to Miami’s chin came from an unlikely source as Riley Bertram turned on a fastball for a three-run homer that erased the Hurricanes’ 5-3 lead. It was Bertram’s first home run as a Tiger and it couldn’t have come at a better time, keying an eight-run seventh inning.
Clemson had jumped out front 2-0 thanks to RBI singles from Caden Grice (3-5) and Bertram (2-5, 4 RBI’s). Cam Cannarella (1-4, 3 runs) made it 3-0 with a screaming line-drive homer to right in the second. The Canes counterpunched with two runs in the third, a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Miami did most of its damage against relievers Nick Clayton and Tristan Smith. Clayton gave up three earned runs in 2.1 innings and, although Smith didn’t get hung with any runs, he walked three of the four batters he faced, allowing runners he inherited to score.
But Jackson Lindley (3-3, 2.76) came to the rescue, silencing the Canes’ bats for the next two innings and setting the stage for Clemson’s comeback.
The Tigers had at least one baserunner in the third, fourth and fifth innings, but came up empty each time. Miami pitching got its first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth as southpaw Rafe Schlesinger sat Clemson down in short order. But the Tigers got their revenge in the following frame as Will Taylor (2-3, 3 RBI’s) and Grice reached on a walk and a single, respectively. Alejandro Torres was thrown into the fire and was ambushed by Billy Amick for an RBI double on the first pitch he threw, trimming the lead to one. Amick, leading off of second, had the best view in the park for some Clemson history as Bertram laced a 2-2 fastball into the seats in right-center to give the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish. Ryan Ammons made it hard on himself with three walks but didn’t surrender a run in the eighth or ninth to put it away.
Sunday’s ACC Championship Game script is a microcosm of the Tigers’ season. They faced adversity early but stuck to the plan and watched their efforts bear fruit as the competition faded. Head coach Erik Bakich reflected on the journey, “Transitions are never easy and coaches sometimes take the wrong stance of getting their own guys in there and players take the wrong stance, saying they didn’t sign up for this. But neither the coaches nor the players did that.” Bakich said, “We just embraced it, said this is our team and we’re going to contribute to this program’s great history.”
Part of that history is that coaches make a habit of winning the ACC Tournament in their first season. Jack Leggett, who is on Bakich’s staff, led the Tigers to the tournament title in 1994 at Greenville Municipal Stadium. Monte Lee won the tournament in 2016, also in Durham and also in his first season at the helm.
Grice, Bertram, Ingle and Cannarella were all named to the All-Tournament team. Grice was also selected as the Tournament MVP.
Clemson (43-17) hasn’t dropped a game since April 28th and is the epitome of a team peaking at the right time. The Tigers have won 16 consecutive games, including eight straight against ranked opponents. Clemson’s 11th ACC Tournament title extends its own conference record.
Clemson now awaits its draw for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers figure to be one of the top national seeds as they have the most Quad 1 wins in the nation. The announcement of the 16 regional host sites is at 8:30 p.m. The NCAA Selection Show is on ESPN2 at noon, Monday.
1B: Nick Kurtz, Wake Forest
2B: Riley Bertram, Clemson
3B: Yohandy Morales, Miami
SS: Zack Prajzner, Notre Dame
C: Tomas Frick, North Carolina
OF: Zach Levenson, Miami
OF: Cooper Ingle, Clemson
OF: Cam Cannarella, Clemson
DH/UT: Caden Grice, Clemson (MVP)
P: Rhett Lowder, Wake Forest
P: Andrew Walters, Miami
Erik Bakich, Caden Grice
and Riley Bertram postgame
NCAA Division I baseball tournament schedule
- NCAA Tournament Selection show: Noon, Monday on ESPN2
- Regionals: Friday, June 2 through Monday, June 5
- Super Regionals: Friday, June 9 through Monday, June 12
- College World Series — Friday, June 16