Hoos Edge Out Clemson
by Greg Waters
Branden Kline carved out seven innings at the ACC Tournament on Thursday.
Starting pitcher Branden Kline grinded out seven innings of work and Branden Cogswell drew a bases loaded walk to plate the go-ahead run as the defending ACC Champions opened the 2012 tournament with a 3-2 win over the Clemson Tigers. The win is Virginia's 13th in its last 15 contests as the Hoos improved to 37-16-1 for the season. The Cavaliers face Georgia Tech on Friday at 11 a.m.
Kyle Crockett got the win to improve to 5-2 on the season and Justin Thompson pitched to two hitters in the ninth to record his 12th save of the year.
Kline, who did not factor in the decision, labored throughout the game but gave up just one run - a solo shot by first baseman Jon McGibbon in the sixth inning. In trouble all afternoon, there were numerous occasions where it looked as if Brian O'Connor might replace Kline but Virginia's 9th-year coach trusted his ace and allowed him to get him into the seventh. The All-ACC selection rewarded his coach with a classic gutty performance by holding the Tigers to just one run in seven innings in a 119-pitch effort.
"I'm really proud of Branden," O'Connor said. "He went out there and gave us seven strong. You need somebody like your ace to go out there and pitch you deep and he certainly did a terrific job."
Trouble started for Kline in the third inning when he gave up a one-out walk to Steve Wilkerson, who promptly stole second. Kline forced the next batter to fly out then loaded the bases on back-to-back walks. He got out of the inning with a slider to Brad Felder, who whiffed at the 2-2 offering.
The junior pitcher ran into more trouble in the fourth. After allowing the two lead-off runners to reach base, Kline forced catcher Spencer Keiboom to foul off two bunt attempts and finally fly out to Derrick Fisher in shallow right field. Kline got ahead of Felder and on the 0-2 pitch forced the hitter to line out to Chris Taylor at shortstop, who tossed the ball to Keith Werman at second for the 6-4 inning-ending double play.
Maybe Kline's best Houdini act of the afternoon came in the fifth, though. After hitting the lead-off batter, Kline walked Richie Shaffer with one out and he advanced to second on a wild-pitch that put runners in scoring position at second and third for the Tigers.
Clemson's designated hitter Phil Pohl slapped a bouncing ball in front of the mound that Kline fielded cleanly and then made a textbook play by checking the runner at third and then connecting with Jared King at first for the second out of the frame. The junior righty then finished off the Tigers throwing three straight strikes to set down Felder to get out of the jam.
Kline concluded the game by leaving the go-ahead runner stranded at third in the top of the seventh. He fanned five Tigers but also walked five hitters and scattered four hits. Clemson went 0-10 with runners in scoring position against Kline.
"You usually build confidence when no one even reaches base, but when you strand them out there, it's a big momentum shift for both the offense and defense," Kline said. "From an offensive standpoint, you believe that maybe one or two runs scored could win the ballgame."
Chris Taylor celebrated a big moment in last season's Super Regional too.Redemption is sweet
Chris Taylor has had some interesting moments in postseason play as a Virginia Cavalier; most of those moments have been very good moments. But Thursday afternoon, the normally dependable shortstop watched what would have been the second out of the eighth inning skip through is glove and that allowed Felder to score the go-ahead run for Clemson.
But Taylor's been here before.
In the final frame of game three of the NCAA Super Regional last season in Charlottesville, Taylor mishandled a throw from catcher John Hicks off a bunt which allowed the go-ahead run to reach third base with no outs. Drew Hillman grounded into a double play, but Sean Madigan came around to score the go-ahead run in that game.
Taylor made amends for the error in a big way.
With the bases loaded in the Virginia half of the ninth, the Cavalier shortstop slapped a 2-RBI, two-out single back up the middle to plate the tying and winning runs and send the Hoos back to Omaha.
Back to Thursday in the ACC Tournament with the Hoos trailing by a run, Taylor was at bat with the bases loaded and two outs. This time Taylor took an inside pitch off his left forearm to bring home the tying run. Taylor was more than happy to have another shot at postseason redemption.
"Obviously I was frustrated and I wanted a chance to pick myself up and my teammates up at the same time. Luckily my teammates gave me a chance to do that late there in the eighth. I just held my ground in the eighth and reached base," Taylor said.
Fittingly, Taylor fielded Pohl's sharp grounder cleanly to begin a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.
If the eighth inning of today's game was not the strangest I've seen in nine years of covering college baseball, it's certainly in the top three.
Clemson and Virginia combined to score three runs on only two hits, two walks, two hit batters and a 'get on base with a strikeout-passed ball' combo - all while leaving five runners on base.
The Tigers started out the frame as Felder struck out to lead off the inning but reached base on a passed ball that bounced off UVa catcher Nate Irving's glove and then ricocheted off home plate umpire Frank Sylvester's shoulder. With the count sitting at 0-1, Jon McGibbon cracked a high fly ball off the third base line near the wall that Stephen Bruno could not handle. With the at-bat extended, Felder stole second and then scored on McGibbon's hot shot to short that Taylor could not handle, allowing Felder to score an unearned run.
Not to be out done, the Hoos had their own strange brew of scoring in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Brandon Downs singled to right field, Nate Irving reached after being hit by a pitch and Kevin Towns walked to load the bases. That set up Taylor for his game-tying heroics, which of course were on a hit by pitch.
With the score tied and the bases loaded, Cogswell patiently drew a five-pitch walk to give the Hoos the lead for good.
That's certainly a strange scoring sequence, but the Hoos will take it as they prepare for Georgia Tech on Friday.