The Winthrop baseball team used strong pitching and timely hitting Wednesday to knock off No. 28 Clemson 3-2 in 11 innings at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
The victory was Winthrop’s third in the past four meetings against Clemson and gives Eagles head coach Tom Riginos his first coaching victory over the school where he served as an assistant for eight years before coming to Rock Hill. Clemson still leads the all-time series 18-5.
Winthrop scored what proved to be the winning run in the top of the 11th inning.
Leighton Daniels drove the inning’s first pitch from Tiger reliever Matt Campbell down the left field line for a double and later advanced to third on a passed ball. With one out in the inning, designated hitter Clay Altman popped a fly ball into shallow right field; Playing aggressively on the base paths, Daniels tagged on the play and slid home safely with the go-ahead run as the throw to the plate was off target.
Eric Ruth, who had come into the game in relief in the 10th inning, shut the door on Clemson in the bottom of the 11th to nail down the victory.
"We got great pitching and played strong defense to be able to win today," said Riginos, who is now in his third season at Winthrop.
"We are trying to learn how to instill a winning attitude with this team, and today was a step in the right direction. We talked to the team today about doing the little things it takes to be successful. I felt good about this game when we got on the bus this morning.
“In our first seven games, it was the mental mistakes and the little things that we weren’t doing that cost us ball games. We could easily be 6-2 right now."
Winthrop improves to 3-5 as it won its second extra-inning game this season, while Clemson drops to 5-2. The Eagles now head to Orlando, Fla. Thursday to take on Central Florida in a three-game series this weekend.
The Eagles were strong out of the gate against with a couple of freshmen being the story early in the game. Starting his first game collegiate game, southpaw Sam Kmiec started strong, striking out six of the first nine Tigers he faced. Kmiec got some early run support from fellow freshman Nick Bateman, who drove the first pitch of the third inning over the left field wall for his first career home run, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
Kmiec held the Tigers hitless through 42/3 innings, before the Tigers finally got to him with two outs in the bottom of the fifth scoring one run on three hits and tied the game at 1.
Kmiec gave up three hits and finished with six strikeouts.
Winthrop regained the lead in the sixth when Leighton Daniels drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a throwing error by the pitcher on a pick-off attempt.
Matt Lobacz promptly drove a 0-1 pitch up the middle for an RBI single scoring Daniels. The hit by Lobacz extended his hitting streak to eight games and gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
However, the Tigers manufactured a run in the bottom half of the inning when Steven Dugger singled to center and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by Shane Kennedy to knot the game at 2.
Dominant bullpen performances by both teams forced the game into extra innings as no runs were scored in the seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th innings.
After Kmiec’s strong four-plus innings on the mound, Riginos used a committee of five pitchers including Mitchell Knox, Steven Howell, Jared Keels, Josh Strong and Ruth to finish it out. The Winthrop bullpen allowed only one run in 6 1/3 innings.
In six innings of work this season, Ruth has yet to give up a run while striking out 10 and allowing only three hits.
Altman’s RBI sacrifice fly in the top of the 11th was his second game-winning RBI this season and both have come in extra inning victories.