CLEMSON — If 16th-ranked Clemson’s postseason epitaph is etched into stone today, it will read like this:
Got the leadoff man on, but stranded too many runners in scoring position. Rest in peace, unbeaten streak of series wins in NCAA regionals and super regionals at home.
Third-seeded Oklahoma State turned the tables on the Tigers on Saturday night, plating the game-winning run on a two-out grounder in the bottom of the eighth to prevail 3-2 in the winners’ bracket game of their NCAA regional.
Top-seeded Clemson (41-20) must beat fourth-seeded Tennessee Tech (31-23-1) in today’s 3 p.m. elimination game, then top the Cowboys (34-22) in a 7 p.m. nightcap to force a winner-take-all rematch at 7 p.m. Monday.
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Freshman lefty Chris Dwyer (4-5, 5.30) will start the first game against Tennessee Tech junior Chason Choate (1-1, 4.06), the third straight lefty the Tigers’ predominantly left-handed lineup will have faced this weekend.
“The next one has the chance to be our last,” junior first baseman Ben Paulsen said. “So we have to play our best baseball.”
The loss snapped Clemson’s 16-game home winning streak in regional games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and handed the Tigers their first home postseason defeat since the 2002 Super Regionals.
It also continued a vindicating surge for the Cowboys, whose inclusion in the NCAA field drew scrutiny because of their poor conference record.
The Tigers have won all eight regional and Super Regional series at home since the NCAA adopted the current format in 1999. But that stretch figures to be in jeopardy if they stay true to their alarming pattern.
Clemson went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, making it 3-for-24 (.125) in the regional and 7-for-57 (.123) since the beginning of the ACC tournament.
“I think we have enough arms (to pull off winning the regional),” coach Jack Leggett said. “We’ve just got to hit the ball.”
The Tigers also need to improve their defense, which has cost them in recent games.
The game was tied at 2 in the bottom of the eighth when junior center fielder Wilson Boyd short-armed a throw with one out.
Leggett was unsure if Boyd — who labored to correct two other initial misplays in the game — pulled up thinking he might collide with left-fielder Jeff Schaus. But the miscue gave Michael Dabbs a double.
One out later, Neil Medchill pulled a grounder that deflected off a diving Paulsen’s glove. The ball trickled onto the outfield grass and allowed Dabbs to score the winning run from second.
“I don’t think there’s much of a chip on our shoulders,” Cowboys coach Frank Anderson said. “We just want to play clean baseball.”
Clemson rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to tie the score and looked ready to duplicate its two walk-off victories in the past week.
Twenty scouts were on hand to evaluate Oklahoma State junior lefty Andy Oliver — projected as a potential first-round pick in next week’s draft — and Oliver delivered, striking out six through six scoreless innings.
Tigers sophomore lefty Casey Harman matched him, allowing one hit while striking out eight in the same span.
But the Cowboys chased Harman in the seventh on back-to-back solo homers, the first from shortstop Tom Belza — who had three Friday after tallying two homers in 214 at-bats entering the regional.
Oliver’s night was done after Clemson posted consecutive RBI singles by pinch-hitter John Nester and Chris Epps.
The Cowboys then turned to freshman closer Randy McCurry, and McCurry exerted damage control by striking out Jeff Schaus. Then, after intentionally walking Paulsen to load the bases, McCurry coaxed Kyle Parker into a weak pop-up to second.
“We had our golden opportunity when we tied it up,” Leggett said. “And we didn’t finish it off.”