CLEMSON | Nothing has come easy for Clemson this season. And nothing was any harder for the Tigers on Monday than getting the final out for a trip to the College World Series.
Leading Alabama by seven runs with two outs in the ninth inning, the Tigers frittered away most of the cushion before reliever Will Lamb got Jake Smith to fly out to finish off an 8-6 victory in the deciding game of the NCAA Clemson Super Regional.
Smith, who homered in the previous two games in the series, came to the plate with the tying run at second base.
"It was full of drama," said Clemson third baseman John Hinson, who put the Tigers on top for good with a two-run homer — his 17th of the season — in the second. "The whole season has been full of drama, but we've been able to stay together as a team."
"It's always been a little tough for us," said Clemson coach Jack Leggett, whose team has lost 10 one-run games and rebounded from a late-season slump to sweep Florida State and claim the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division title.
The Tigers (42-23) will take on Arizona State in their first game at the College World Series.
Dominic Leone (3-1) allowed only one unearned run and three hits in 5 2/3 innings for the Tigers. Fellow freshman Richie Shaffer hit two home runs. The third Clemson pitcher in the ninth, Lamb earned his second save of the season.
Clemson had dominated the Tide and standout right-hander Nathan Kilcrease, scoring eight straight runs after the Crimson Tide (42-25) scored first in the opening inning. The Tigers pounded out six runs on 11 hits in five innings against Kilcrease (8-3).
Meanwhile, Leone and reliever Alex Frederick held the Tide at bay for eight innings.
Brett Booth started Alabama's ninth-inning rally with an opposite-field, two-run homer just inside the foul pole in right off Kevin Brady. The Tide followed with three straight hits and a walk by Ross Wilson. Then Tiger shortstop Brad Miller allowed a routine grounder by Clay Jones to scoot under him into left field.
Leggett brought in Lamb, a lefty, to face the right-handed Smith, who hit 15 homers this season.
"He's the guy we wanted up," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said.
But Smith hit a lazy fly to left fielder Jeff Schaus.
"I honestly thought Jake was going to run one out of there," Wilson said.
Leggett had benched Lamb, his designated hitter in the first two games of the series. "We felt like we might have to use him (at pitcher), so we didn't DH him," Leggett said.