'We'll do it, or we'll die trying': Clemson must rally again for College World Series berth (2024)

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  • By Jon Blaujblau@postandcourier.com

    Jon Blau

    Jon Blau has covered Clemson athletics for The Post and Courier since 2021. A native of South Jersey, he grew up on Rocky marathons and hoagies. To get the latest Clemson sports news, straight to your inbox, subscribe to his newsletter, The Tiger Take.

CLEMSON— Erik Bakich was surprisingly calm after Clemson dropped its first contest of super regionals by 10-7 to Florida on Saturday, turning the next day's game into a do-or-die situation.

But the Tigers' coach felt his confidence to be anything but irrational.

When Bakich was a volunteer assistant at Clemson in 2002, that team lost its super-regional opener to Arkansas, 9-6, and then won two in a row to advance. The last time the Tigers made the College World Series in 2010, they lost the opener of supers to Alabama, 5-4, and rallied again.

This program's more glorious past includes its share of comebacks, and this team, in particular, seems to enjoy having its back against the figurative wall. Clemson wasn't able to rally on Saturday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, but the Tigers already have 25 comebacks wins in 2024.

Recent history is on Clemson's side.

And a more distant history, still in the process of being reclaimed, also is on Clemson's side.

"We'll do it," Bakich said with a smile, "or die trying."

The grit of this Clemson squad has Bakich anything but downtrodden after a loss. Really, it was just one bad inning that doomed the Tigers.

In the top of the fifth, Tristan Smith walked the lead-off batter, Florida's No. 9 hitter, Michael Robertson. That was compounded by a single given up to the Gators' true leadoff man, Cade Kurland, to bring one of the best hitters in baseball, Jac Caglianone, to the plate with runners on first and third.

The Tigers felt compelled to pitch to him, and Caglianone put a baseball well over the left-field fence, kicking off the Gators' seven-run inning.

"He did what great players do, he had a big hit," Bakich said.

The power potential of Florida's lineup was more than understood coming into the weekend. It was up to the Tigers' pitchers, Bakich said, to not allow free passes, and Clemson's fielders not to commit errors.

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But in that seven-run inning, Clemson did both.

Caglianone's homer ended Smith's day and reliever Lucas Mahlstedt promptly walked two. Later in the inning, second baseman Jarren Purify threw one wide of the plate on a fielder's choice to allow another to score.

"The dagger was we allowed four more runs to score. There's nobody on, no outs, which was no big deal," Bakich said. "So that was a tough one. But hey, chin up, chest out, we're still alive."

What flipped from a 4-2 lead to a 9-4 deficit proved too steep for even the most resilient of Clemson squads to overcome. A solo homer from Tristan Bissetta in the fifth and a pair of runs in the sixth couldn't close the gap completely.

Florida turned to one of its MLB prospects, Brandon Neely, to cut off the Clemson rally. The junior tossed scoreless innings in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, which negated four innings of one-run ball from Clemson freshman Jacob McGovern.

Clemson will hope McGovern's work was not in vain, saving the bullpen some innings ahead of Sunday's 2:30 p.m. game, allowing them to potentially come alongside a first-team All-ACC freshman, Aidan Knaak, who has been known to work deep into games.

"Gov's a sophom*ore now, school's out," Bakich said. "But yeah, he's been pitching very well."

If Knaak can outduel a two-way star in Caglianone on the mound, then there could be a Monday game. And then, anything can happen.

If the Tigers lose Sunday, the season is over. Their streak of seasons without a trip to Omaha extends one more year, still reaching back to 2010.

But the Tigers certainly aren't getting down on themselves. They seem to think a loss might put them exactly in the position they want to be.

"I'd say our confidence isn't altered at all," Clemson grad transfer Alden Mathes said. "We know we gotta win a series for a trip to Omaha. Obviously, losing Game 1 isn't ideal. But just like we've been all year, backs against the wall, I think that's when we thrive and when we play our best.

"Obviously, it hurts a little bit to lose Game 1. But there's no doubt in our minds that we're going out there tomorrow and winning Game 2."

Follow Jon Blau on Twitter @Jon_Blau. Plus, receive the latest updates on Clemson athletics, straight to your inbox, by subscribing to The Tiger Take.

Jon Blau

Jon Blau has covered Clemson athletics for The Post and Courier since 2021. A native of South Jersey, he grew up on Rocky marathons and hoagies. To get the latest Clemson sports news, straight to your inbox, subscribe to his newsletter, The Tiger Take.

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