OMAHA, Neb. – Sometimes getting hot just before the College World Series is more important than establishing consistency during the regular season.
That certainly seemed to be the case on Monday when Clemson and Arizona State met in the final first-round matchup at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The Tigers used excellent pitching from starter Casey Harman and a solid offensive performance to stymie the heavily favored Sun Devils, 6-3. As a result, the red-hot Tigers moved to the winner's bracket. Arizona State, the top national seed, now will play South Carolina for the right to stay alive in Omaha.
"I really thought Casey [Harman] opened it up and really gave us some great innings. Alex [Frederick] came in and closed the door," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "The offense was clicking pretty well today, too. We had a good approach against their pitcher."
The Tigers entered Monday's contest against the Sun Devils as one of the hottest teams in the CWS field of eight. Arizona State, meanwhile, has been one of the nation's best teams throughout the season. But it chose a bad time to play a less-than-stellar brand of baseball for the first time in a few weeks.
Clemson made ASU pay for every mistake at the plate. And on the mound, Harman allowed just three runs on seven hits in six innings of work.
"I worked off the fastball and was able to keep them off balance," Harman said. "It really was about going out there and trying to be aggressive."
Harman had a good reason to be a little spiced up for the affair with the Sun Devils. The talented left-hander faced the Sun Devils in the Tempe Super Regional last season and didn't have a good showing.
In last year's series against the Devils, which the Tigers lost, Harman allowed four runs on 10 hits in just 5 2/3 innings.
Harman didn't want a repeat performance in Omaha.
"I think last year's super regional was a different story. We went into that a little more timid. We arrived in Omaha with all the confidence in the world," Harman said. "That's been the biggest difference for us. Knowing we're not going to lose is the biggest difference for this club."
That feeling hasn't been with the Tigers that long. It's here at the right time, though.
Two weeks before the regular season came to a close, the Tigers hit the road and dropped a series to ACC bottom feeder Wake Forest. The next week, though, the Tigers returned home and swept Florida State to get back on track.
Clemson hasn't been the same team since that point. It took care of business in the Auburn Regional two weekends ago before disposing of Alabama in the Clemson Super Regional to punch a ticket to Omaha.
The clutch play by the Tigers offense the past few weeks has been a major key to their success. But as displayed against the Devils, the rise of Harman also is a major reason the Tigers are in Omaha. His performance is the main reason the Tigers have a chance to take total control of their bracket with a win over Oklahoma in the winner's bracket.
"The past couple of outings I've had, I haven't really followed a scouting report too much," Harman explained. "I just go through the first couple of innings and get a feel for things and for what guys are hitting well. Scouting reports only tell you so much."
Clemson is the only team in the CWS field of eight that was a No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional.
Now it's a win away from being in great shape to play for a national title.
Getting hot at the right time often is all that matters.