#Clemson Regional: Tigers lose 14-inning tug-of-war with Tennessee, 6-5 (AUDIO)

Cam Cannarella came through with clutch hits, Saturday, but was ejected in the 13th inning (Tigernet)

DOUG KINGSMORE STADIUM: Clemson and Tennessee engaged in an epic, back-and-forth, gut-wrenching battle of wills, Saturday, that lasted well into the night and tested the mettle, fortitude and physical endurance of both clubs. At the end of the 14-inning struggle, it was the Volunteers that had their hands raised in victory. A 6-5 triumph that propels Tennessee into the power position at the Clemson Regional.

Tennessee will now lay in wait as Charlotte and Clemson will be forced to expend more energy and pitching arms in an elimination game at noon, Sunday. But it was nearly Clemson that found itself in the catbird’s seat and just one win from clinching a Super Regional berth.

Caden Grice had dazzled for eight innings, limiting Tennessee to four hits, one walk and two runs while striking out ten. Leading 4-2, head coach Erik Bakich made the decision to run his big lefthander back out there for the ninth in the hopes of seeing him finish what he started. Grice induced two groundouts on just seven pitches and was on the precipice of basking in glory. But the Volunteers clawed back, putting runners on the corners with a pair of singles. The second one coming on an 0-2 count. So with reluctance, and with power threat Zane Denton coming to the plate, Bakich called on his closer Ryan Ammons to relieve Grice, who had thrown 113 pitches. Denton had homered off of Grice in the seventh, so it made sense to give him a different look.

Ammons blew two fastballs past Denton, jumping ahead in the count 0-2. After missing twice, Ammons tried to beat Denton over the middle of the plate. With Tennessee again down to its final strike, Ammons fired a thigh-high fastball that cut the heart of the plate. Denton tore into it, driving it into the left field stands and taking the air out of Doug Kingsmore Stadium. It was a stunning turnaround. In the blink of an eye, Denton’s three-run homer put the Volunteers ahead and had undone all of Grice’s good work.

Clemson didn’t wilt, however, plating a run in the bottom of the ninth that forced extra innings. Blake Wright doubled to center, his first hit of the Regional. Cam Cannarella, who had given Clemson its first lead with a three-run homer in the fifth, fell behind 1-2. The moment didn’t overwhelm the ACC Freshman of the Year as Cannarella ripped a double to chase home Wright with the all-important tying run.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Cannarella was later ejected in the 13th inning after the Tigers turned a crucial double play to douse another rally. The teams had been warned early in the game to tone down the smack talk, but in one umpire’s judgment, Cannarella’s comment to Denton in between innings crossed a line. Cannarella is also suspended for the elimination game against Charlotte.

The Tigers let a golden opportunity slip away in the tenth as they loaded the bases with nobody out. Vols reliever Chase Burns was unable to throw a strike as Mac Starbuck and Riley Bertram squared to bunt. Needing just a bleeder, blooper or a sacrifice fly against Tennessee’s drawn-in defense, Bakich let Wright swing away. But Wright fanned and the Volunteers backed the middle infielders into double-play depth. Benjamin Blackwell hit a ground ball toward the second baseman, but it wasn’t hit sharply, giving Blackwell a chance to beat it out. The initial call was safe, but the play was close enough to review. On closer examination, Tennessee had pulled off the double play and the Tigers elation was proved to be premature.

Over the next few innings, there was traffic all over the basepaths for both clubs, but the bullpens staved off defeat time and again. In the 14th, Tennessee finally broke through. Leadoff hitter Maui Ahuna, who had fanned three times against Grice and was just 1 of 6 overall, worked a walk against Casey Tallent. He scored just moments later on Hunter Ensley’s double to right-center.

In the home half of the 14th, Jack Crighton advanced all the way to third base but was stranded there as Clemson’s 17-game winning streak came to a halt.

Bakich wouldn’t commit to a starting pitcher in Sunday’s first elimination game, noting that he needs to consult with his staff before coming to a decision on how to handle the pitching duties. Bakich also has his bullpen to consider after utilizing ten pitchers, Saturday.

Clemson is now faced with the prospect of having to win three games in two days to advance to a Super Regional, starting with the matchup against Charlotte at noon, Sunday.

Box Score

Erik Bakich and Riley Bertram postgame

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