June 14, 2010

By John Clayton
Special to NCAA.com

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson advanced the 2010 College World Series Monday afternoon behind a suddenly prolific offense and the right arm of freshman pitcher Dominic Leone.

The Tigers defeated Alabama 8-6 at Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium to win the NCAA Division I Super Regional series 2-1 and advance to the CWS for the fourth time since 2000 and the first time since 2006.

Clemson will face Arizona State, which eliminated Arkansas in two 12-inning games, in the first round of the CWS, which begins Saturday in Omaha.

Clemson appeared to have the game well in hand until a ninth-inning rally by the Crimson Tide fell just short. Alabama trailed 8-1 heading into the ninth, but scored five runs against a pair of Clemson relievers before left-hander Will Lamb came on in relief and retired Game 1 hero Jake Smith, who represented the game-winning run, with a fly ball to left field to earn his second save of the season.

"You had to know it was going to end like it did," said Clemson coach Jack Leggett. "It's the way this season has gone. Nothing has been easy for us."

Before Alabama's late rally, the Crimson Tide appeared to be wilting under the near 100-degree heat and the strong pitching performances of Leone and reliever Alex Frederick.

Leone (3-1), who was matched against Alabama ace Nathan Kilcrease despite only earning three decisions in eight starts this season, gave up just three hits and one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings. He retired the Tide in order in the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Frederick followed with 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit before departing after the eighth.

Meanwhile, Clemson's bats, which came alive with a 19-run performance in Game 2, gave Leone a comfort zone. The Tigers got at least one base hit in every inning until the ninth and scored two runs in each of the second, third fourth and seventh innings.

Clemson first-baseman Richie Shaffer, who missed time during the regular season due to a groin injury, led off the fourth with a solo home run to right field and then connected for a two-run homer to left in the seventh, giving him three home runs in two games.

Alabama took a 1-0 lead on Ross Wilson's single, scoring lead-off hitter Taylor Dugas, who had reached on an error and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches.

But that was all the offense Alabama could muster for the next 8 2/3 innings.

Kilcrease (8-3), who shut down Georgia Tech to help Alabama advance to the Super Regionals, lasted only five innings and exited after giving up six earned runs on 11 hits.

"I could never get comfortable out there," said Kilcrease, who came into the game with a 2.42 earned run average. "I just always seemed to be rushing."

Clemson third-baseman John Hinson's two-run homer to right field put Clemson ahead 2-1 in the second inning, and the Tigers never trailed from there.

Shaffer went 2-for-5 at the plate with his two home runs and three RBI. Designated hitter Chris Epps, making his first start of the Super Regionals, went 2-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored from the lead-off spot.

Alabama's ninth-inning comeback was spurred by designated hitter Brett Booth's two-run home run off reliever Kevin Brady.

Brady started the ninth for the Tigers and walked Smith before retiring the next two batters he faced. Booth followed with a home run, and catcher Brock Bennett, Dugas and shortstop Josh Rutledge then hit three straight two-out singles.

Tomas Cruz took over for Brady, but walked second-baseman Ross Wilson, scoring Bennett and bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of first-baseman Clay Jones. Jones reached on an error charged to Clemson shortstop Brad Miller on a routine ground ball, scoring both Dugas and Rutledge before Lamb entered to earn the save. "To put yourself back in position to win the game in the ninth inning speaks volumes about this team," said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard, whose 42 victories set a new record for wins by a first-year head coach at the school. "I can't be more proud of the way this team competed."

Clemson is now 4-0 when facing elimination in Regional and Super Regional competition.