Sports

Tigers face must-win situation in Starkville

Mississippi State first baseman Brian LaNinfa tags out Clemson's Doug Hogan as Clemson assistant coach Toby Bicknell looks on during the sixth inning.
Mississippi State first baseman Brian LaNinfa tags out Clemson's Doug Hogan as Clemson assistant coach Toby Bicknell looks on during the sixth inning.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Clemson pitcher Daniel Moskos was taking late lunch orders afterward when it came to first baseman Andy D'Alessio's turn.

D'Alessio requested a soda, then immediately changed his order to water.

The Tigers needed to quickly cleanse Friday's 8-6 loss to Mississippi State from their system. Given their track record this season, it was too early to seek the consolation of comfort foods.

"All year long, nothing's been easy for us," D'Alessio said. "We've never had a weekend where we just rolled through a sweep. Even the latter part of the ACC gave us a lot of trouble. This is nothing different. We've been in this situation before."

True, and Clemson has saved its best performances for when its back has been against the wall. See the road series against Florida State and ACC tourney wins against Miami and FSU.

But those lacked thousands of fans packed behind the outfield wall. Plus, these Tigers (41-23) have yet to be one defeat away from season's end.

Spurred on by a super regional record crowd of 12,620 at Polk-Dement Stadium, the Bulldogs (37-20) recovered from a 5-2 deficit to score all eight of their runs in a three-inning span and emerge with the first game of the best-of-three series.

"We knew it was going to be a tough environment to play in," junior shortstop Taylor Harbin said. "We've been to Omaha, so we've played in front of big crowds, and I don't think we let that bother us. They just rallied behind (the crowd) when they got that momentum and rode that to the end."

Clemson must prevail in today's noon game to force a 1 p.m. winner-takes-all final Sunday. And to stave off elimination, the Tigers will have conquer their archenemy, the left-handed starter.

MSU will use junior Justin Pigott (6-6, 4.31) against a Clemson team that is 13-10 against lefties. Coach Jack Leggett said the Tigers will probably counter with junior right-hander David Kopp (6-2, 3.47), although sophomore lefty and former Northwestern standout Ryan Hinson remained a possibility.

Kopp was a second-round draft pick, but having a marquee profile pitcher may have hurt Clemson in the opener.

Moskos, the No. 4-overall pick, surrendered five earned runs in five innings, most in any of his 10 starts since converting from closer.

While Moskos said his stuff was good, the heat expectedly knocked a few digits off his fastball -- which did not bode well when he fell behind in counts.

MSU designated hitter Connor Powers said facing someone of Moskos' newly minted stature helped batters stay focused -- and thus pull within a triumph of the College World Series.

"For whatever reason, they started seeing the ball better," Moskos said.

Clemson led 5-2 in the sixth when Moskos' bull's-eye, coupled with a pair of defensive miscues and a homer-friendly wind, conspired to begin the team's downfall.

After a leadoff double, third baseman Marquez Smith failed to backhand a grounder that was ruled an RBI single and pulled the Bulldogs within 5-3.

First baseman Mitch Moreland then made Clemson pay, popping up a two-run homer that carried beyond the center field wall to tie the game.

"The ballpark played somewhat short today," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "We had the opportunity to have the right people up. And you have to take advantage of those opportunities against a guy like Daniel."

Leggett stuck with Moskos for the next two left-handed batters, but the Tigers' wheels had come off. Still without an out, another double was followed by second baseman J.D. Burgess booting a grounder, putting runners on third and first.

Closer Stephen Clyne grabbed a one-hopper the next at-bat, but Clemson traded a double play for the go-ahead run.

The strategy might have worked out if MSU had not managed to pound Clyne, a third-round pick, for two runs in the seventh.

"We just got to the middle part of the game and lost control," Leggett said.

"Tough ballgame to lose, but we've got two more to go. That's got to be our frame of mind, anyway."

Miss. St. 8

Clemson 6

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