June 2, 2006
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) _ When Elon freshman Pat Irvine saw a right-hander warming up in the eighth inning, he knew his time was coming. Moments later, Irvine slapped a pinch hit, two-out single between shortstop and third base to drive in the winning run as the Phoenix got their first ever NCAA tournament victory, 5-4, over Mississippi State to open the Clemson Regional on Friday.
Irvine had started 31 games this season, but only one since May 6. That didn’t stop him from delivering when Elon needed him the most. “I would say it’s probably the biggest hit I ever had,” Irvine said, laughing.
This was only the second NCAA trip ever for the Phoenix (45-16), who bowed out of a regional at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium in 2002 after two straight defeats.
Now, Elon will meet either Clemson or North Carolina-Asheville in a winner’s game Saturday. The Bulldogs (35-22) take on that game’s loser in an elimination game.
Things were tied at 4 with one out when Ryan Addison started the winning rally with his third hit. Addison stole second and took third on Paul Bennett’s fly ball to right. That brought up Irvine, a former starter benched late in the season because he’s not as effective against lefty pitchers.
“That was the only issue with that,” Elon coach Mike Kennedy said.
When Irvine spied Mississippi State freshman Chad Crosswhite, a right-hander, loosening up, his adrenaline started to amp up. Moments later, he was battling Crosswhite with the game on the line. Irvine’s hit was his first since May 6, the RBI was his first since April 14.
With one out in the eighth, Ryan Addison got his third hit. He stole second to get in scoring position. Irvine put the ball out of reach of the shortstop and Addison trotted home with the winning run.
“All I had to do was hold that guy,” Crosswhite said. “And I couldn’t do it.”
Elon closer Chad Tilley gave up a leadoff hit in the ninth, but retired the final three batters for his 11th save.
Jesse Lewter (5-1) worked 2 1-3 innings of relief for the victory.
It looked like the Phoenix wouldn’t need a late-inning rally after going up 4-1 in the second. Chris Price walked and Addison singled. Bennett beat out a bunt to load the bases.
Jordy Snyder followed with a hard shot to third that Michael Rutledge couldn’t handle and threw wild to home, scoring two runs. Bennett scored on a sacrifice fly and Snyder came in two batters later on Chris Vasmi’s single.
Mississippi State tied it up in the fifth on Jeffrey Rea’s two-run triple and Edward Easley’s RBI groundout.
Brooks Dunn (8-6) gave up Elon’s first four runs and got the loss. There was a scary moment in the top of the second after Elon shortstop Bennett collided with centerfielder Snyder as both converged on Brian LaNinfa’s pop fly. Bennett was face down on the ground, motionless as teammates rushed to his side. It took several minutes before Bennett stood to cheers and was walked into the dugout. Moments later, Bennett sprinted back to his position. He later caught a pop fly for the inning’s second out.
Bennett was not unconscious after the collision, just woozy, said Elon’s Kennedy.
Mississippi State had won its first NCAA tournament game in eight of its past nine appearances. Now, The Bulldogs have to win to avoid going oh-for-the-double elimination tournament for the first time since 1993.
“We’ve never done it the easy way,” Rea said. “It seems we’re always fighting here, fighting there. I guess we’re right where we need to be in a sense.”
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