A disappointing season for Clemson came to an abrupt end Saturday afternoon in Nashville with a 6-4 loss to Xavier in an elimination game of the NCAA regional. The Tigers lost for the fifth time in their last six NCAA Tournament games and failed to win a game in the tournament for the first time since 1981,
At least this game, unlike Friday’s 18-1 dismantling by Oregon, was competitive. The Tigers scored single runs in the fourth on a RBI double by Jay Baum and in the fifth on a RBI single by Steven Duggar to take a 2-1 lead for starter Daniel Gossett. But the Tigers’ All American couldn’t protect it.
A leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt put the tying run on second in the bottom of the 5th. Mitch Elliott got the run home with a single. Elliott later stole second and with two outs scored the go ahead run on a double by Daniel Rizzie.
Gossett got out of more trouble in the sixth. A double and a single put runners on the corners with no outs. But Andre Jernigan failed to get the bunt down on a squeeze play and Derek Hasenbeck was tagged out after a run down. Jernigan went to on to strike out as did Stephen Schoettmer to end the inning.
That last pitch was Gossett’s 99th and final of the game. Lightening and light rain interrupted the game for 1:48 in the top of the 7th with one out and a runner on second for the Tigers. Sean Campbell replaced Xavier starter Scott Klever when play resumed and got pinch hitter Mike Dunster to ground out to second and Tyler Slaton on a fly ball to center to end the inning.
Drew Moyer came to the mound for Clemson in the bottom of the seventh and the Tigers came unhinged. Moyer allowed a leadoff infield single to third then threw high to first on a sacrifice for an error. Both runners moved up on another sacrifice bunt and were chased home on a single to left by Daniel Rizzie which scooted under the glove of leftfielder Garrett Boulware. Rizzie ended up at third and later scored on a wild pitch by Clay Bates.
Clemson did fight back. Steve Wilkerson ripped a two run homer to right with one out in the 8th to cut the lead to 6-4. But a pair of fly outs to center followed to end the inning. And the Tigers went down in order in the 9th to end the game.
Gossett took the loss in what is possibly his final game with the Tigers to fall to 7-2. He allowed nine hits and three runs over six innings.
The Tigers finish their season with a 36-25 record, the second time in the last three years they have won fewer than 37 games.
(Jack Leggett, Daniel Gossett, Garrett Boulware)