Sports, Baseball, Spring

Clemson Ties it Late, but Eagles Win in Extras in ACC Tourney Opener

It seemed like every member of the Boston College baseball team got a moment to shine on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in the first game of the ACC Tournament against Clemson.

There was second baseman Cody Morissette slugging two home runs—after entering with just two in his previous 50-plus games. There was starter Mason Pelio, settling down after some early nerves to pitch six innings and set down the side in order in the fifth. There was outfielder Joe Suozzi and second baseman Brian Dempsey both going deep, helping the Eagles set a season high for long balls.

Then, of course, there was reliever Joey Walsh, bouncing back after allowing a game-tying two-run single in the eighth to hold the Tigers scoreless until the 11th—when Peter Burns reached on an error to bring in the go-ahead run and Dante Baldelli followed with an RBI single for safe measure. When everyone had taken their turn, the game ended in a dramatic 7-5 extra-innings victory, setting 12th-seeded BC up for a chance to advance out of pool play with a win over first-seeded Louisville on Wednesday morning.

“I was proud of the boys. Heck of a ball game,” head coach Mike Gambino said, per ACC Sports. “ I was just proud of the way this lineup kept coming and kept coming. These boys are fun to be around right now.”

The Eagles (30-26, 12-18 Atlantic Coast) have won eight of 10 and are peaking at the right time. Morissette powered the offense with a 3-for-6 day out of the second spot in the lineup, while Dempsey piled up three hits and the outfield duo of Baldelli and Suozzi combined for four. It was enough for the team’s first win in the postseason tournament since 2010, an especially impressive one as the Tigers (33-24, 15-15) entered with plenty to play for as they are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Should BC continue its run, though, it might find a spot opening up in the field as well. The Eagles climbed five spots to 59th in Warren Nolan’s RPI with the victory, and have a chance to vault even more as they take on the Cardinals—who rank seventh in RPI.

“Clemson was a great team. It’s a big win,” Morissette said after. “But we have bigger goals in our mind. We want to get into the NCAA Tournament.”

The Tigers put two runners aboard in the first inning—one advancing on an errant pickoff attempt from Burns—but failed to score. They managed to get one off Pelio in the second, though, as the freshman righthander was attempting to settle in. After Chad Fairey singled to open the frame, he eventually came around to score when Sam Hall grounded into a double play. The damage was largely limited, and BC had an answer.

In the top of third, with two outs and Baldelli standing on first after reaching on a single, Morissette strode to the plate and launched a go-ahead, two-run home run deep into the right field seats. The Eagles tacked on another run in the fourth when Suozzi went deep to left-center, homering off the ACC sign beyond the fence, then stretched their lead to four on another Morissette home run. The second baseman showed bunt on the second pitch of the at-bat, then swung away on a 2-0 count and sent it even deeper to right field.

Clemson got a run back in Pelio’s final inning of work on a Kyle Wilkie sacrifice fly to center field, but the freshman stranded two runners with a groundout. Pelio was sharper as the day went on, eventually finishing his day having allowed three hits and four walks while striking out six. He was charged with two runs, one earned, and showed good poise on a big stage.

“I think you saw that in the first innings,” Gambino said about him making his first start in a postseason game. “Just a kid learning how to pitch in the tournament atmosphere. Once he settled in, he was pretty good. Mason has a chance to be really special.”

The BC bullpen quickly proved that fans were in for a stressful few innings when Thomas Lane loaded the bases up in the seventh. He got out of it with a flyout from All-ACC First Team selection Grayson Byrd, one of the hottest hitters in the conference of late, but BC would find itself back in the same situation in the eighth—and even Dempsey’s solo shot wasn’t enough insurance. Lane left with two outs and a runner on second, but closer Matt Gill wasn’t up to par for a five-out save. Gill gave up an RBI single to Hall, then loaded the bases on a walk and a hit batsmen. Walsh entered and promptly surrendered a game-tying two-run single to Michael Green, but that would be the last time the Tigers scored on him.

Meanwhile, Clemson’s pitching looked much stronger. After Dempsey homered in the eighth, closer Carson Spiers took over and spun back-to-back scoreless innings. Yet he wouldn’t make it out of the 11th. BC’s Gian Martellini led off the frame with a single and was pinch run for by Lucas Stalman. Then, Suozzi laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Stalman into scoring position. After Chris Galland drew a walk, Burns drilled a sharply hit ground ball that took a wicked hop over the Tigers’ first baseman in Fairey to score the go-ahead run. Baldelli added some comfort with a run-scoring single of his own, and Walsh closed the door in the bottom of the 11th with a 1-2-3 inning.

It was a dramatic win for BC, which has proven it can play spoiler against some of the conference’s best on the biggest stages. Now, the Eagles will look to do it again against the conference’s best team in the regular season.

“You’re always hoping for the type of pressure you get when you get to the postseason,” Gambino said about the dramatics of the tournament. “And you can see the look in these boys’ eyes. This team, they love playing in pressure games.”

Featured Image by Ashton Carroll / Heights Staff

May 21, 2019