Tuesday, June 4, 1996
With their performance at the College World Series on Tuesday afternoon, Clemson and Alabama might have given Barnum and Bailey a run for their money.
The Tigers gave up 10 runs in the final four innings, but got four of their own in the top of the ninth to nip the Crimson Tide 14-13 in a Bracket One elimination game before an estimated 14,000 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"The longer that game lasted, the more crazy things that could happen," Clemson Coach Jack Leggett said. "It was a great battle. We were fortunate to end up with one more run than they had."
With the win, fifth-and seventh-ranked Clemson (2-1 in the CWS, 51-16 overall) moves into tonight's 6:35 winners' round game against Miami (2-0, 49-13). First-and second-ranked Alabama, the top seed in the tournament, ends its season 1-2 and 50-19.
At the postgame press conference, no one from Clemson smiled until asked if they were all too tired to smile.
"I am a little tired from that game," said Tiger second baseman Doug Livingston, who hit a two-run double in the ninth and then scored what proved to be the winning run on shortstop Kurt Bultmann's single. "That was one of the best games I've ever played in."
It stands to reason that of the nine players brought to the interview room, only one was a pitcher. The hitters were the stars.
The teams combined for 27 runs and 32 hits. Both totals tie for third on the CWS single-game chart. The records in those categories - 35 runs and 37 hits - were established in 1984 when Arizona State defeated Oklahoma State 23-12.
Of the seven pitchers used Tuesday, Clemson's Billy Koch was the only one not to be charged with a run, and he only threw two-thirds of an inning.
But his work came at the right time - when Alabama had the potential tying run at third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Crimson Tide catcher Dax Norris took Koch, the overall No. 4 pick Tuesday in the major league draft, to a 3-2 count and fouled off two pitches. But Koch, who threw 127 pitches fewer than two days before, finally got Norris on a high hopper to first to end the game.
"This game was probably the most exciting I've ever played in or hopefully will play in," Koch said. "This is the type of game the College World Series is known for.
"You see the highlight films and see all of those miraculous comebacks. You never think that's going to happen in your game."
Koch's relief appearance was only his third of the season. In the first, he gave up a single and a homer to Tennessee. In the second, he put the two deciding runs on against North Carolina State.
"So I've had a little tough luck," he said. "It felt real good to get out there today. I wanted the ball in my hands."
The Tigers led 5-0 in the third, 8-3 as late as the sixth and 10-5 in the seventh. Among their big hits was left fielder Gary Burnham's three-run homer in the fourth.
But Alabama got a grand slam home run from shortstop Brett Taft in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game 10-10. Taft also hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
The Crimson Tide then scored two more runs in the eighth on first baseman Chad Moller's single and right fielder Dustan Mohr's double to take its first lead at 12-10.
"That's why we were here, what you witnessed today - our ability to come back,'' Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "It was a game that looked like it would never end.
"But we thought we were going to win, even when we were behind."
Clemson also maintained the faith entering the top of the ninth down by two runs.
Burnham and right fielder Jerome Robinson opened the inning with singles. After a foul out on a bunt try, center fielder Rusty Rhodes singled to score Burnham and cut the gap to 12-11.
Then Livingston pounded a two-run double off the center-field wall to give Clemson a 13-12 lead. Bultmann capped the inning with a run-scoring single.
"But I was still a little nervous the way the game was going back and forth," Livingston said.
He had a right to be nervous because in the bottom of the ninth, Taft hit a leadoff double and left fielder Drew Bounds singled with one out to put Alabama runners at first and third.
With two outs, Bultmann let a ball go through his legs at shortstop, allowing the Crimson Tide to close to 14-13 and get the tying run to third. But the freshman, who is 7 for 13 hitting in the CWS, didn't hang his head about his error.
"The guys were great about it," Bultmann said. "Billy said, 'Don't worry. I'll get the next guy.' "
And he did. Koch retired Norris to end the game.