Liberty advanced to its first NCAA regional final with a 3-1 victory over Clemson on Sunday afternoon in front of 5,464 fans at Carolina Stadium.
The Flames’ reward for defeating the Tigers twice in the double-elimination tournament? A quick turnaround to face host South Carolina at 7 p.m. in the regional championship.
“Obviously, I’m glad to still be alive,” Liberty coach Jim Toman said. “We were very lucky out there. Clemson is a very good team, and I congratulate coach (Jack) Leggett on another regional. He has one of the most consistent programs in the country, but we get another chance at South Carolina.”
It was a second straight bitter ending to a season for Clemson. The Tigers lost seven of its final eight games of the season and had their season end come to a close for the second straight year at the Columbia Regional. Last year, South Carolina eliminated Clemson in the finals.
“It was a tough loss for us,” Leggett said. “Any time you end the season here, a Super Regional or Omaha, it’s always tough. It hurts. We’ll rebound and be ready to play next year.”
This year, A lack of timely hitting doomed Clemson (40-22) not only against the Flames and but also during its late-season nosedive.
The Tigers got the lead-off runner on six times but scored one run against Liberty starter Trey Lambert and closer Ashton Perritt. The Tigers went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, and the final five hitters in the line-up combined to go 2-for-16 in the game and 9-for-53 in the three tournament games. That included a three-hit performance from Shane Kennedy on Saturday.
Eight of the nine base runners that were stranded were left in scoring position.
“We had some opportunities but just couldn’t come up with the big hit,” Leggett said.
Clemson (40-22) opened the scoring in the fourth inning. Steven Duggar began the inning with a double, and Garrett Boulware followed with an RBI single. That would be the only hit the Tigers would get with a runner in scoring position.
“I was hoping it was going to come down for us eventually,” Boulware said. “We got the leadoff man on, but we couldn’t get them around to score. It’s disappointing.”
Liberty (36-28) answered in the bottom half of the inning. The Flames loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and a hit batter before Bryan Aanderud delivered a two-run single to left field.
Danny Grauer was thrown out at third on the play, but the Flames had a chance to add additional runs after they reloaded the bases with one out. Dalton Britt flied out to left, and Tyler Slaton gunned Aanderud down at the plate to end the inning and keep it a one-run game.
The Flames added an insurance run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Trey Wimmer.
Trey Lambert (8-3), who beat South Carolina in the opening series of the season, picked up the win. to improve to 8-3 on the season. He allowed one run with two walks and a strike out in 72/3 innings. Closer Ashton Perritt came on with two runners on and two outs in the eighth and struck out Shane Kennedy looking.
Perritt finished the ninth to earn his 10th save of the season.
Matthew Crownover, who had not pitched since May 17 because of soreness in his arm, took the loss. The freshman allowed two runs on five hits in four innings with a walk and three strikeouts.