No Omaha: Florida sweeps Clemson in Super Regional to end Tigers’ season

This year’s Clemson baseball team got farther than any team since 2010.

But not far enough.

Florida beat Clemson, 11-10, in Game 2 of an NCAA Tournament Super Regional Sunday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, sending the Gators to the College World Series and eliminating the Tigers from the postseason with a two-game road sweep.

Florida won Game 1, 10-7, on Saturday and withstood a furious rally on Sunday from a Clemson team seeking its 26th comeback win of the year.

The Tigers and coach Erik Bakich were the No. 6 national seed and won their first regional since 2010 last weekend but will miss out on the Men’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska for a 15th consecutive year.

Clemson’s season ends at 44-16 after an instant classic that spanned 13 innings and concluded with Bakich and special assistant Jack Leggett both getting ejected.

Clemson looked like it might pull off the extra-innings win after a solo home run from Alden Mathes in the top of the 13th inning. Shortly after Mathes slammed the bat down and scored the go-ahead run (10-9), the umps huddled to discussed apparent discipline for the Clemson batter. In the aftermath of that discussion, Leggett left the dugout and was ejected. Bakich was ejected moments later.

Florida then loaded the bases and walked it off with an RBI double from center fielder Michael Robertson in the bottom of the 13th that scored two.

Clemson finished its season 44-16. Florida, which made the field as a No. 3 seed, moved to 34-28 and will play either Texas A&M or Oregon in an opening CWS game.

Bakich, according to a Clemson spokesman, was not allowed to participate in a postgame news conference since he had been ejected, per NCAA rules.

That left a number of veteran Tigers players, including senior third baseman Blake Wright, at the podium to sum up a gut-wrenching loss that lasted nearly five hours.

“An incredible game between two very competitive teams,” Wright said. “Credit to them for making more plays. ... We fought hard. Team 127 will always be remembered for never being out of the fight.”

Clemson had missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2021-22 before athletic director Graham Neff fired then-coach Monte Lee and brought in Bakich from Michigan. The Tigers have now earned top 8 national seeds in consecutive tournaments and were two wins short of a 2024 Omaha trip.

“This program is back on the right path,” Wright said.

Game recap

Clemson starting pitcher Aidan Knaak has been great this season as a freshman, but he got off to a rough start in his first super regional appearance by hitting the first pitcher he faced and allowing a two-run home run to Gators star Jack Caglianone.

Minutes later, with Florida up 2-0, things got spicy.

In the top of the second with two outs, Caglianone, Florida’s two-way star, ran down a short ball by Clemson hitter Nolan Nawrocki and tagged Nawrocki out to end the inning. But in doing so, he bumped into Nawrocki hard enough for Clemson’s designated hitter to push him back.

Both players got in each other’s faces, prompting players from across the field and in the dugout to move toward the altercation along the first base line.

The game was delayed for 18 minutes while umpires sorted out the mess. The final verdict was an unsportsmanlike conduct warning to both teams’ benches and Clemson’s Jack Crighton getting ejected for “leaving his position on the field because he went to the site of a potential altercation.”

Bakich, Crighton and the Clemson home crowd were all visibly upset at that ejection, which sent the team’s starting first baseman out of the game and automatically made him ineligible for the Tigers’ next game, “whenever that is,” per the NCAA.

Back to baseball ...

After nearly 20 minutes away from play, the teams returned to the field and traded leads. Clemson was up 3-2 in the tird. Then, Florida tied it 3-3 and went up 5-3 on a fifth inning RBI double to chase Tigers starter Knaak off the mound.

The Tigers returned the favor with a home run to get within 5-4 in the sixth.

The Gators’ response? Catcher Brody Donay hit a two-run home run to deep right off Clemson reliever Reed Garris and went up 7-4 in the bottom of the same inning.

The Tigers, fighting for their lives, pulled Garris after 0.2 innings in favor of reliever Austin Gordon, a former starter turned standout closing pitcher for Clemson.

He delivered — and put Clemson in position for a comeback. Cam Cannarella did just that with the hit hit of his life, smashing a three-run home run to deep right off standout Florida closer Brandon Neely to tie the game 9-9 in the top of the ninth.

And Gordon went three up, three down in the bottom of the ninth to send the home crowd into a frenzy and send Clemson and Florida to extra innings.

The cheers got even louder after Cannarella’s game-saving catch in the bottom of the 10th, when he somehow tracked down a ball that looked way over his head and could’ve delivered a walk-off Florida run ... but ended up in his glove instead.

“The best catch I’ve ever seen,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

Fighting for their postseason lives, the Tigers went three straight extra innings without a run but stayed alive thanks to the pitching of Gordon (career high 10 strikeouts) and Ethan Darden, who struck out Caglianone swinging and worked his way out of a runners on second and third jam in the bottom of the 12th inning.

After Mathes’ home run put Clemson up 10-9 and Bakich and Leggett were ejected, though, Florida’s Robertson drove in the game-winning RBI double off Darden (the Tigers’ sixth pitcher of the day) to deliver a walk-off win for the Gators.

“This was a great season,” Clemson catcher Jimmy Obertop said. “Obviously, wish we would’ve made it to Omaha. But these guys are awesome. Coach Bakich and the staff are awesome. They’ve got a bright future ahead of them.”