Jack Leggett’s 22nd season as Clemson’s coach ended Saturday night like each of the four years prior: without a Super Regional berth.
Clemson rallied from down 7-0 with two runs in the sixth and six more in the eighth inning, only to give up three runs in the eighth and ninth as Pepperdine eliminated the Tigers from the NCAA Tournament with a 10-8 win.
The Waves (31-28) jumped on Clemson left-handed starter Zack Erwin early, putting three runs on the board in the first. Erwin had surrendered two earned runs combined in his previous three outings, but his troubles were far from over.
Pepperdine third baseman Chris Fornaci sent a towering shot to left field in the second – a fourth homer over the regional surrendered by Clemson pitching. After settling down in the middle innings, three of the first four batters reached for the Waves in the sixth frame, where second baseman Hutton Moyer made Clemson (32-29) pay with a two-run double to left field.
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Erwin, who had won five of his previous six starts, finished with a final line of seven runs – six earned – on eight hits, with three walks to two strikeouts in 51/3 innings.
Early-inning runs were nowhere to be found for Clemson’s bats, but for a second consecutive game, they started stringing together hits as the California afternoon went on.
In the sixth inning, right fielder Steven Duggar and second baseman Tyler Krieger scored after a single and a double to start the frame. With two on and two out, two more Tigers were left on base after center fielder Tyler Slaton struck out swinging.
Pepperdine sophomore right-handed starter A.J. Puckett ran out of steam in his next frame – the first four Tigers reaching base, including a two-run single from Krieger. Catcher Chris Okey kept the rally going after Puckett’s exit with a two-run single to left field. Two on and two out again for Slaton, Pepperdine closer Max Gamboa (6-2) came to end the threat, but Slaton had other ideas – sending a two-run triple to the right-field gap to put the Tigers on top.
Clemson’s lead didn’t last long – Pepperdine’s Fornaci scored after a double to lead off the eighth.
Tigers lefty reliever Pat Krall (2-4) gave up a leadoff walk to center fielder Matt Gelalich in the ninth, and he found his way around the bases with a double from shortstop Manny Jefferson and a throwing error by Clemson’s Reed Rohlman from left. Fornaci continued a big night (4-for-6) with a two-out insurance RBI single.
The final winning percentage (.525) is the worst under Leggett and worst overall since 1964 (.500).
Clemson made the Super Regionals seven times from 2000-10, but the Tigers haven’t hosted since 2011 or made a regional final since 2012.