DURHAM, N.C.—Clemson roughed up Georgia Tech ace Mark Pope for four runs on nine hits, and then tacked on five more in the ninth to win the first game of the ACC tournament 9-0 on Wednesday afternoon. The victory continues the Tigers' hot streak that has the team back in the mix to host an NCAA regional next weekend.
Clemson has completely turned its season around since getting swept at North Carolina, which dropped the Tigers record to 13-12. Since then, Clemson has gone 26-5.
“I think we’ve been as good as anyone in the country through the last 31 ballgames,” coach Jack Leggett said.
The Tigers are responsible for two of Pope’s four losses this season, also beating him April 29 in Clemson.
Pope said he didn’t have a good feel for his slider today, the second time that’s happened to him in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park this season. The first time it occurred, Pope was able to persevere for a 9-2 complete game-victory against Duke on April 1. But against a more talented Clemson club, his lack of a slider made Pope vulnerable.
“He’s got a very good curveball,” left fielder Jeff Schaus said. “But we have so many experienced lefties in the lineup that it’s tough to throw that to lefties a lot. He still did a pretty good job, we just battled.”
Clemson had the lineup stacked with lefthanders against Pope, a righthander. The strategy paid off as the lefthanded-swinging Chris Epps delivered the big blow of the game. Epps hit a towering home run into the right-center-field stands for a three-run home run in the fourth inning.
With ace Dominic Leone and reliever David Haselden limiting Georgia Tech to six hits, Epps' home run was all Clemson needed.
“Chris’ three-run homer kind of opened things up for us,” Leggett said. “It broke the ice. I thought our pitching was stellar.”
While one win probably didn’t lock Clemson into a host spot, Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said he believes Clemson is deserving.
“I think there’s five teams in our league that could easily host,” Hall said. “I don’t look at those RPIs all the time, but I know there’s five of us that are top 10 or top 15. I think those RPIs are pretty indicative of how good our league is.”