Clemson Baseball

Nearly Perfect: Mat Clark's gem may punch Tigers' ticket to NCAA Tournament

May 23, 2019
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Clemson’s 2019 baseball season has been far from perfect.

After Tuesday’s loss to Boston College in the first game of pool play in the ACC Tournament, some Clemson fans on social media said the Tigers should forfeit Thursday’s game against top-seeded Louisville. They wanted to see what has been viewed as a disappointing season come to an end.

Clearly, Mat Clark didn’t read those comments. In an imperfect season, his near-perfect performance with Clemson’s season seemingly on the line proved to be a statement.

In reality, Thursday’s game was anything but “meaningless” for the Tigers as they spanked the Cardinals 7-1 in both teams’ final game of the ACC Tournament. A loss would have left Clemson sweating until the NCAA Tournament selection show on Monday.

But Thursday’s win, against one of the top teams in the country, all but ensured Clemson’s spot in the field of 64. Not a bad time for Clark to have his best start of the year.

The sophomore had faced the minimum through seven innings and was five outs away from a perfect game before a walk with one out in the eighth. Still, Clark stepped to the mound in the ninth inning three outs from a no-hitter, but gave up a home run to Louisville’s Zach Britton on the inning’s first pitch. Jacob Hennessy came in for relief to get the final three outs of the game.

Clark’s final line: eight innings pitched, one run on one hit, two walks and three strikeouts. It was only the third one-hitter thrown in ACC Tournament history. When Clemson needed it most, he was on fire.

When he left the game, Clark (9-2) was given a standing ovation by the Durham crowd and everyone on the team, even members from the bullpen, greeted him with a hug or high five as he walked off the field.

Clark out-pitched the ACC’s Pitcher of the Year, Reid Detmers, by a landslide as the Tigers offense shelled him for the second time this season.

In the third inning, Kyle Wilkie sent a double off the left-field blue monster to score two runs and give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. The very next inning, Jordan Greene and Sam Hall singled to start the inning, which brought up the powerful Justin Hawkins.

On the first pitch of the at-bat, Hawkins sent a moon shot over the left field wall to give the Tigers a 5-0 lead and all but end Detmers’ day.

Detmers (11-3) finished the day throwing only four innings, struck out seven batters, but gave up five runs on six hits.

Against Clemson this season, Detmers pitched two games, 10 innings, gave up 10 earned runs, and lost both games. Against all others: 13 games, 83.1 innings, 19 earned runs (2.05 ERA).

Clemson’s bats weren’t done after the demolition of Detmers. The Tigers had 12 hits on the afternoon, including a Greene two-out single in the fifth inning to score another run. Catcher Kyle Wilkie sent a home run over the left-field wall in the seventh inning to give the Tigers their seven runs.

After going 2-for-12 against Boston College on Tuesday with runners in scoring position, Clemson was much more productive, batting a 3-for-6 clip in that category and only left five runners on base all game. Wilkie was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. Greene and Hawkins combined to hit 3-for-8 with four RBIs.

It wasn’t just the masterful pitching performance from Clark that paved the way for a Clemson victory. This was one of the more strong defensive performances of the season from Clemson’s defense behind him. Clark only struck out three batters, but forced 13 ground outs, including a beautiful diving stab from first basemen Grayson Byrd.

The play of the afternoon came in the eighth inning, the first batter after the perfect game was broken up, Cameron Masterman hit a shallow fly ball toward right field. A sprinting Greene raced over from second base while his cap flew off to make the catch of the day over his shoulders.

Greene gave Clark a look and a nod as if to say, “We got you.” Up Greene’s left arm was an arm sleeve, traditionally worn by the second baseman with a phrase written on it.

Thursday’s phrase: “Carpe Diem” which means “seize the day.”

Well, Clemson certainly seized the day, Clark seized the opportunity, and the Tigers may have just seized a spot in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

 
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