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|GAME AT A
Point: Alex Frederick worked out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam, getting a popout, a groundball that scored a run and a strikeout to end the threat. Arizona State closed to 6-3 but no closer.
OMAHA—Clemson lefthander Casey Harman considers himself a night person. He prefers to carbo load before a game and he enjoyed a nice spaghetti and meatball dinner before Sunday night’s scheduled start against Arizona State.
The weather didn’t cooperate, however. Rain and lightning forced the Arizona State-Clemson game to be postponed until Monday morning. So Harman’s pregame meal was eggs and hash browns.
Maybe breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Harman pitched like a guy who is waiting at the porch when the morning paper arrives and whose to-do list is half done before the sun comes up.
“The excitement is what woke me up,” Harman said after pitching Clemson to a 6-3 win Monday over the top-seeded Sun Devils. “I just mainly fed off the energy of this place. It’s crazy here.”
Added Harman: “Coach (Jack) Leggett said that when teams come out at 10 in the morning to play, the one with the most energy is going to win. We really took that seriously.”
In contrast, Arizona State starting pitcher Seth Blair looked like he missed his wakeup call and the Sun Devils offense like it missed its morning coffee.
Clemson (44-23) advances to a winner’s bracket game Tuesday night against Oklahoma while ASU (52-9) faces an elimination game beforehand against South Carolina.
It’s a rather surprising start here for a Sun Devils team that opened the season with 24 straight victories and swept through the first two rounds of postseason play undefeated.
“We’re a good team and we just played poorly,” said ASU’s Raoul Torrez. “We’re going to come tomorrow and play how we have all year long.”
The task ahead isn’t impossible—15 teams have advanced to the finals after losing their first game and 10 of those have won the national championship — but it is the path of most resistance.
“It’s a double-elimination tournament,” said ASU coach Tim Esmay, who was animated in his postgame address to the team. “They just used their get-out-of-jail-free card today.”
Harman (8-3), who allowed seven hits and three runs over six innings, was efficient in his effort against a team averaging 8.5 runs a game. And when ASU finally did threaten to get back into the game when it was 6-2 in the seventh, Tigers teammate Alex Frederick came on and defused the situation. Frederick entered with the bases loaded and no outs, ended the threat with just one run scoring and stayed until the job was done.
Blair (12-1), a junior righthander drafted in the supplemental first round by the Cardinals, didn’t look like the pitcher who was unbeatable this season.
Blair, who averaged fewer than two walks a game this season, walked two batters in both the first and second innings against Clemson. He wound up tying a career high with five walks. In the second, he also committed a balk, something he did only once previously in 17 starts.
“Obviously, Seth wasn’t on it,” said Esmay. “He wasn’t filling up the zone . . . It just wasn’t as efficient as it’s been in the past.”
Blair got out of a first-inning predicament with the bases loaded when ASU shortstop Deven Marrero gloved Brad Miller’s line drive and stepped on second base for an inning-ending double play.
He was not as fortunate in the second inning. A run-scoring single by Clemson catcher Spencer Kieboom and a throwing error charged to Marrero gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead before Blair induced a ground ball to short to end the inning with the bases loaded.
The scouting report on Blair is that he runs up high pitch counts, and he was at 90 pitches through four innings. Harman had thrown 45 pitches at the same juncture.
That ASU trailed only 2-1 through four innings was solely due to the hustle of Raoul Torrez, who stretched the team’s first hit into a double in the third inning. After moving to third on a wild pitch, he tagged on teammate Austin Barnes’ fly to right field and slid his left hand across the plate just before Kieboom could apply the tag. Clemson coach Jack Leggett sprinted out of the dugout to argue the call, but should have saved his legs. Replays confirmed home plate umpire Jim Jackson’s conclusion.
Blair was finished with one out in the fifth when he hung a breaking ball—his 110th pitch—that Clemson’s John Hinson lined to right field for a 3-1 lead. The Tigers added two more runs off reliever Brady Rodgers but both runs were charged to Blair, who allowed seven hits, five runs, walked a season-high five walks.
Esmay said he wasn’t bothered by the postponement.
“You prepare yourself all day mentally to go play,” he said, “but when they said there was no game that’s a lot better than starting a game and suspending it and having to come back. Both teams are in the same boat. They prepared all day. We prepared all day. I don’t think that was a factor.”
Playing in the morning definitely made a difference when ASU left fielder Drew Maggi lost a ball in the sun in the fifth inning. That wouldn’t have happened Sunday night. The sun would have been down. And maybe the Sun Devils would have been up. Or at least wide awake.