June 5, 2006
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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Clemson had already showed powerful pitching and swift-striking offense in the NCAA tournament. On Sunday night, the Tigers showed they could play from behind, as well.
After Mississippi State used a four-run sixth to put Clemson behind for the first time all regional, the Tigers came right back with three runs to retake the lead on the way to a 8-6 victory and a spot in the NCAA super regional.
Taylor Harbin had three RBIs, including the game winner in the decisive rally. When the Tigers returned to the dugout, the mood wasn’t of panic or fear, Harbin said. It was one of determination and resolve.
“We really just said. ‘We need to scratch us a couple of runs to get us back in the swing of things,’ ” said Harbin, voted the regional’s most valuable player. “To come out and scratch three runs on top of their four was just a big confidence booster for us.”
The Tigers, the tournament’s top overall seed, had breezed through the bracket with powerful offense and crisp pitching, never trailing in wins over North Carolina Asheville (3-0) and Elon (13-3) to reach the championship game.
Things looked good again in this one as Clemson (50-14) went ahead 4-1, helped by Harbin’s RBI double in the first and run-scoring bunt in the third.
The Bulldogs (37-23) of the Southeastern Conference proved tough, taking a 5-4 lead in the sixth.
But it was Harbin again in the middle of the winning rally. Tyler Colvin’s hard chopper bounced over the first baseman’s head to score Herman Demmink with the tying run and put Marquez Smith on third. Harbin followed with a long fly into the right field corner that easily brought in Smith to put Clemson back on top.
Andy D’Alessio added an RBI single to end the Tigers’ rally. Harbin finished the three games with seven RBIs.
Harbin also showed his style in the field, ranging wide to his left to snag a ball in the ninth, turned and threw – a la Derek Jeter – to get the game’s next-to-last out.
“He’s feeling more confident as the season goes on,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “He works hard at his game and he’s ready to play all the time.”
Closer Daniel Moskos got the final eight outs for his 10th save. David Kopp (5-1), the third of four pitchers, picked up the win.
Clemson reached the super regional round for the seventh time since the NCAA began the best-of-three series in 1999.
Next up for the Tigers is Oral Roberts, a third seed at the Fayetteville Regional who beat top-seeded Oklahoma State 9-2 Sunday to advance. Oral Roberts played at Doug Kingsmore Stadium a year ago in a regional won by the Tigers.
Mississippi State had earlier ousted Elon, 12-3, behind a 17-hit attack and a dominating performance by lefty Justin Pigott.
Coach Ron Polk hoped for the same thing from Brett Cleveland, a senior reliever called on to start for the first time in 70 career appearances. For a while, it looked like Polk’s gambit might work.
After his shaky start, Cleveland kept Clemson off balance through six innings as his teammates rallied to the front. But Cleveland had nothing left as he started the seventh – this was his longest college outing ever – and Clemson battled back off reliever Chad Crosswhite (0-3).
“I knew I was going to have to give my best effort and give the team some innings,” Cleveland said. “So I tried to give us six or seven innings and keep us in the game. I did that, but we just fell short.”
Clemson reached 50 wins for the first time since 2002. That was also when the Tigers last reached the College World Series, where they were knocked out by two straight losses to in-state rival South Carolina.
Sunday’s game was delayed more than two hours because of rain.
* – Unanimous selection
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