OMAHA—Bullpens were key storylines for both Clemson and Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils used theirs to help jump to a 24-0 start, win the Pacific-10 Conference for the fourth straight season and be the only team to reach the College World Series both in 2009 and 2010.
Clemson (44-23), meanwhile, never found a closer. No Tiger has more than three saves this season, and the Tigers nearly blew an 8-1 lead in the Super Regional finale against Alabama, a meltdown on national television that would have stuck with the program for a while.
So Monday's role reversal at Rosenblatt Stadium was a welcome change for Clemson, which earned a 6-3 victory against the tournament's No. 1 seed. The Tigers jumped out to a 6-1 lead behind starter Casey Harman, and reliever Alex Frederick shut down a bases-loaded, no-outs jam to end a seventh-inning threat en route to a three-inning save.
"I come off mound, shake it off and was cheering him on louder than anybody," Harman said. "We all know we have each other's back . . . I was happy for him; I was the first one out to greet him, not because he didn't give up my runs, but because we had a three-run lead going into the eighth inning.
"I'm proud of him, and it was him who won the game."
The bullpen has been a problem for Clemson all season, and Frederick has emerged as its hottest hand down the stretch. He tied Tomas Cruz for the team lead with his third save Monday and has now thrown 61 innings, ranking him third on the ballclub. He's 7-2, 3.71 overall for the season and has made a team-high 31 appearances.
All that for a 5-foot-9, 180-pound fourth-year junior righthander from Lagrangeville, N.Y., who spent his first seasons at Iona and Dutchess (N.Y.) CC and who made just six appearances for Clemson last year, when he didn't travel to road games. Frederick wasn't drafted thanks to the fact that he's small, already 22 and sits at 86 mph with his fastball.
But he's got a cut fastball that has changed his career and that he relied on heavily Monday.
"I didn't think he could create enough movement on his fastball for him to pitch off the fastball, the way that Casey Harman does; (Casey) pitched off his fastball today," pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said. "We talked in the fall when he was kind of rolling his slider up there, and we decided to switch him to a cutter grip. He took to it quickly; it had a sharper break, later action, and his slider really became his cutter.
"He throws it hard, and it's his best pitch. It's created enough margin for error in his fastball that now he can really work off the cutter, then he can sneak in a fastball straight at 86 and it's still effective."
Frederick said he also mixes in a change and curveball but admitted he throws "mostly cutters."
"It's a pitch I command better," he said. "I try to throw it hard, just grip it and throw it hard and let it work."
It worked best against Arizona State's best batter, .394-hitting Zach MacPhee, to finish Frederick's escape act in the seventh. He entered with the bases full and none out but popped up Austin Barnes on a shallow fly to center, then got Drew Maggi to hit a slow roller to second for an RBI groundout. He fanned MacPhee, the tying run at the plate, on three pitches, the last a cutter with depth and low-80s velocity.
Clemson doesn't have a closer, so coach Jack Leggett said he'll ride the hot hand in the bullpen, based on "whoever is the matchup in the eighth or ninth, based on their history and how they've been doing last few games or innings, and how that guy is feeling and how the ball is coming out of his hand.
"There were a couple of instances where we had Will Lamb ready for a lefthanded batter, but (Frederick) threw a great slider against MacPhee, so we did not have to face (Kole) Calhoun there, until next inning. We're taking it pitch by pitch and batter by batter."
Frederick threw 29 pitches and probably won't be available tomorrow night when Clemson faces Oklahoma. So Leggett will have to find a new hot hand, at least for one game.
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