Sports, Baseball, Spring

Despite West’s Dominance, Eagles Fall to Clemson in ACC Tournament

Going into Friday’s contest against No. 22 Boston College in the ACC Tournament group stage with a semifinal berth on the line, No. 6 Clemson baseball had not lost a game since Friday, April 28. The last time the Tigers did lose, however, was at none other than Harrington Athletics Village, where the Eagles play. 

In that contest, Clemson’s starting pitcher Austin Gordon earned three runs on three hits in 6.2 innings of work, and he was the only Clemson pitcher to lose a game in that series—the Tigers won the other two matchups 9–7 and 6–3, respectively. But on Friday in Durham, N.C., Gordon had a shot at redemption. 

Despite a sizzling performance from right-handed relief pitcher John West to keep the 

No. 6-seeded Eagles in the game, Gordon’s lights-out, shutout innings pushed the No. 3-seeded Tigers through the affair, and Clemson (41–17, 20–10 Atlantic Coast) downed BC (35–18, 16–14) 4–1. Gordon notched three strikeouts in six scoreless innings. 

“Austin Gordon today was unbelievable,” BC head coach Milke Gambino said. “We saw that, we were able to get him for a couple at our place early on. But he did it again today. … That Clemson ballclub isn’t just one of the best ballclubs in this conference. Obviously, they write their name in the country.” 

Gordon needed just eight pitches to swipe through the Eagles in the top of the first inning, and it didn’t take long for one of the hottest hitters in the ACC to put the Tigers on the basepath—even against the Eagles’ ace Chris Flynn.

Cam Cannarella, with a .390 batting average going into the game, continued putting on a clinic with a double off the blue wall in left field. Flynn dialed in with a strikeout on Will Taylor after inducing a flyout, but Caden Grice pummeled a home run to put BC down 2–0. The only question was not whether the home run would go out or not. It was whether it would stay fair, which it did. 

Flynn prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Kevin Vance after walking two of the first three Clemson batters in the bottom of the second inning, and throwing 17 balls to just 13 strikes through his first 30 pitches. After both runners stole third and second base, Jack Crighton posted a double to right field to make it 4–0 Tigers.

“We’re not in this spot if it’s not with Flynny,” Gambino said despite the starter’s struggles. “So, you know, in some ways, it’s just a matter of which way we’re going today with them. And Westy’s come out of the bullpen, Flynny’s been starting all year. So we just kept Flynn in his routine.”

Right-hander West replaced Flynn in the bottom of the third inning, and gave the Eagles just the fire they needed, recording a 1-2-3 inning. 

Cimini added to the fire with a two-out single to left field for his second hit of the day in the top of the fourth inning, but Wang grounded out. It didn’t matter, though, because West worked through his next half-inning in style, striking out all three batters in the bottom of the fourth for a back-to-back 1-2-3 inning. 

The fifth inning continued the theme of the last couple of innings—a scoreless BC top of the inning, and a shutdown West bottom of the inning. And so did the sixth. 

After four Eagles went down in the top of the sixth inning, West knocked out all three Clemson batters in the bottom of the sixth, striking out two. Grice, Clemson’s power batter, gave recognition to West’s off-speed command after striking out, nodding in West’s direction after the final pitch of the at-bat. 

“You know, you have everything from Cannarella and Grice who can hit it on top of the roof like he did today,” Gambino said. “They’re scary all the way through. … And then you see the arms coming out of the bullpen. It’s hard to find holes and on top of that, they’re going to improve and they’re taking on Erik [Bakich’s] personality.” 

Nick Clayton replaced a smiling Gordon in the top of the seventh, and the new pace of play made the Eagles even shakier. After a Wang flyout, Kyle Wolff and Sam McNulty registered back-to-back strikeouts. Nevertheless, the pitching duel continued, as West propelled BC to another scoreless bottom of the inning in the seventh with his sixth strikeout to extinguish the Tigers’ rally. With the strikeout, West retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced after replacing Flynn. 

“Westy is awesome again,” Gambino said. “Settling that thing down. I had the feel early on like, that offense is scary. So what Westy did, he gave us a chance all the way through—it was awesome.”

With multiple pitching changes in the final two innings, the Clemson pitching staff did just about everything to put the cap on the bottle in the contest, and the Eagles ultimately fell by a final score of 4–1. Wang delivered a solo shot in the top of the ninth to hand BC its only run. 

The victory didn’t overshadow West’s relief performance—the six-foot-eight Shrewsbury, Mass. native tallied seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings pitched. 

“We figured we would see West at some point,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said. “Flynn’s really good too—he’s got a good induced vertical break on his fastball—and you gotta do a really good job as a hitter of pushing it down. … But John West, we still don’t have the answer for that one. We didn’t have it in Chestnut Hill.”

May 26, 2023