Lightning flashed overhead at Rosenblatt Stadium at the College World Series in Omaha yesterday evening. Six hours of rain delay moved Arizona State’s scheduled night game with Clemson to this morning.
Then lightning struck again this morning in another form, as the Sun Devils were shocked by the Tigers in a 6-3 loss that puts them one game away from going home.
ASU, the No. 1 seed, swept Clemson last year in the Super Regional and were favored to beat the Tigers again this year. But the vaunted pitching prowess the Devils have displayed all year meant little to the Tigers.
Clemson hammered the Devils with 14 singles, knocking out starter Seth Blair in the fifth inning after he gave up seven hits, five runs, and five walks. It was the first loss of the season for the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year.
Blair walked four of the first 12 batters and couldn’t keep the Tigers off the bases. By the time it was all over, ASU went through four pitchers and every starter for Clemson got at least one hit.
When Blair left in the fifth, Clemson had scored three runs to go up 5-1, and never looked back. They added another run in the sixth and ASU was able to put another up in the bottom of that inning, and then one more in the seventh – even though they had loaded the bases with no outs and had a good chance to pull it out.
This was Blair’s second consecutive sub-par outing. He struggled against Arkansas in the Super Regional, as the Devils pulled out the final win in the 12th inning to get to Omaha.
A bright spot for the Sun Devils: Riccio Torrez extended his hitting streak to 26 games with a single in the sixth that scored a run.
But that was small consolation for the team picked my many to win it all this year.
ASU (52-9) will take on South Carolina (48-16) now in an afternoon game tomorrow. The Gamecocks are coming off a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma.
Like Clemson, the Gamecocks have been peaking at the right time of the year.
South Carolina strolled through the Columbia Regional, beating Bucknell, The Citadel, and Virginia Tech. Then they swept a pair from Coastal Carolina to punch their ticket to the CWS.
They actually outhit the Sooners in the Series opener, 9-7, and are performing better at the plate than their .302 team batting average would indicate. Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Walker, and Brady Thomas each had two hits apiece. Bradley, who has a 17-game hitting streak going, also parked his 12th home run of the year.
The Tigers, like ASU, elected to go with their No. 1 starter, Blake Cooper. That decision didn’t pan out too well for them, either.
Cooper, who came into the CWS with a 2.81 ERA, also got lifted in the fifth inning after giving up three runs on six hits and five strike-outs. He dropped to 12-2 on the season.
Junior right hander, Sam Dyson, will likely get the start against ASU. Dyson, who was selected in the fourth round of the MLB draft by Toronto, is 5-5 on the year and carrying a 4.35 ERA over 89 innings.
The South Carolina pitching staff is one of the better in the college game this year, with a .362 ERA.
This will be only the seventh time that the Devils and Gamecocks have met on the baseball diamond, with ASU up 4-2. Five of those six games were played at the College World Series.
The last time the schools played was at the 1981 CWS, when ASU eliminated the Gamecocks in a 10-7 win.
But that was a quarter of a century ago, and the thought of revenge is undoubtedly a distant memory for the Gamecocks.
The issue this year is whether ASU can get its offense back on track in time to keep from getting eliminated tomorrow. And maybe light a fire under the pitching staff as well.
The good news is, the Sun Devils have not lost consecutive games all season.
And likely won’t begin now.