Sports

Tigers' season comes to an end in Starkville

Clemson's Doug Hogan, right, and associate coach Kevin O'Sullivan display their disappointment following their 8-5 loss to Mississippi State.
Clemson's Doug Hogan, right, and associate coach Kevin O'Sullivan display their disappointment following their 8-5 loss to Mississippi State.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- For four minutes, the majority of Clemson players stood paralyzed on the dugout stoop watching the ensuing melee.

Hundreds of Mississippi State fans had poured over the outfield wall and funneled to the mound, joining the prototypical dog pile that punctuates this accomplishment.

After waiting stoically, the Tigers were finally freed to shake hands with their College World Series-bound opponents, and a pack of spectators converged next to Clemson's line ringing MSU's standard-issue cowbells in their direction.

The bells had officially tolled on the Tigers' season.

"It's tough not to get to Omaha because I think this team deserved it the way we played the last month and a half," coach Jack Leggett said.

The difference between what the Tigers (41-23) deserved and reaped remained a subjective sore spot after Saturday's 8-5 defeat sealed the best-of-three super regional series.

Mirroring the Friday loss, the Bulldogs (38-20) battered Clemson's vaunted starting pitching and rode the subsequent momentum to prevail in front of a Polk-Dement Stadium capacity crowd of 13,715, shattering the super regional attendance record set there the previous day.

School officials had bemoaned that the NCAA had awarded MSU the privilege of hosting based on a vague set of criteria -- revenue potential and the fact the Bulldogs were sent to Clemson for last year's regional -- instead of merit, with the Tigers holding a higher RPI rating.

Representatives from both sides went out of their way during the weekend to excessively compliment the other's hospitality and congeniality, yet it was clear Leggett believed the odds of the team returning to the CWS would have drastically improved had the NCAA selection committee put the series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Clemson has now dropped all four road super regionals since the format was incorporated in 1999.

In the last six years, the Tigers have lost five of the six regionals or super regionals in which they faced an elimination situation. It also marked the third straight year they have failed to survive an NCAA tournament elimination contest.

"I was just hoping we could pull this thing off and not talk about it," Leggett said. "I will say this -- they have to look at it and seed all the teams so there's no question, there's no politics ... or excuses are coming up.

"I know where we were in relationship to them leading up to this. Who knows, maybe at home we make it to Omaha, and those kids deserved it. It's just hard to win on the road."

Or simply at Mississippi State, which reached the CWS for the first time since 1998 via its first home postseason series in four years.

The Bulldogs, predicted to finish last in the SEC's Western Division and left for dead after tumbling toward the regular-season finish line, admittedly caught fire with last weekend's regional upset of Florida State.

They will meet the winner of the USC/North Carolina series in Friday's opening round of CWS play.

"It's fortunate that we got the opportunity to host," coach Ron Polk said. "This is a ball club that most people don't want to play right now."

Clemson had a pair of ready-made chances to force a third series game Sunday but could not notch the magical moment -- a la Tyler Colvin's walk-off regional grand slam last year -- that would top off this year's trek through adversity.

Trailing 7-5 with two on in the seventh, junior shortstop Taylor Harbin blasted a shot Leggett immediately figured had changed the game's complexion.

But MSU left fielder Nick Hardy snatched the ball at the top of the wall, leaving the Tigers inches away from a potential breakthrough.

"I thought it was gone for sure," MSU center fielder Jeffrey Rea said. "I checked the wind and it's almost like the ball was falling backward."

Then in the bottom of the ninth, again with one out, senior first baseman Andy D'Alessio came up with two on.

D'Alessio, tied for the school career home run record, could have knotted the game with one more mighty swing.

But his line drive lost its muster as it reached right field, falling into the outfielder's glove to set off pandemonium.

"I tell you what, if I hit that ball out, we had a destiny to go to Omaha," D'Alessio said.

"It always seemed like they had an answer for everything we had."

Miss. St. 8

Clemson 5

  Comments