Tigers use walk-off homer to knock off No. 1 Seminoles

Clemson’s Jon McGibbon hit a walkoff home run on Friday that not only defeated No. 1 Florida State, but also might have saved the Tigers’ postseason hopes.

The sophomore first baseman blasted a three-run homer to rally the fifth-seeded Tigers past the top-seeded Seminoles by a 9-7 score in Friday’s action in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Trailing 7-6 entering the bottom of the ninth, McGibbon came up with two on and one out and ended the game with a deep shot over the left-center wall. The Tigers celebrated the win, which snapped a four-game losing streak.

Clemson kept itself in the race for an appearance in the ACC title game with one swing by McGibbon. It also may have saved their chances for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“Winning this game,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said, “gives us life for tomorrow.”

The Tigers, who would have been knocked from title contention with a loss, will face Georgia Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday. If the Yellow Jackets win, they will play on Sunday, whereas Clemson needs a win and a loss by Virginia to Florida State.

McGibbon hit a slider from Robert Benincasa over the fence in right-center to trigger an exodus from the Tiger dugout and upend Pool A of the eight-team tournament. The Tigers lost their opener to Virginia and were down 7-4 in the eighth when Florida State summoned Benincasa, who had surrendered all of two earned runs all season and had saved nearly as many games (13) as he had allowed hits (16).

No. 8 Georgia Tech had considerable reason to believe it was about to become only the third team seeded eighth or lower to make the title game in the 39-year history of this tournament. A Seminole win would have made it happen.

Benincasa allowed a two-run single to Spencer Kieboom, the first man he faced, but he got out of the eighth with his typically baffling slider and FSU still led 7-6. The Seminoles, 36-0 when leading after seven innings before Friday, appeared to have weathered the storm.

Benincasa, who hadn’t permitted more than three hits in any of his 26 previous appearances, began the ninth by whiffing Richie Shaffer, but Phil Pohl singled through the middle to get something going. Pinch hitter Joe Costigan grounded wide of first, but the Seminoles’ Jayce Boyd declined an apparent opportunity to throw to second and instead flipped the ball behind his back in the direction of first base. Costigan was credited with a single on the play, and the tying runs were suddenly on base.

McGibbon was ready but not necessarily intent on hitting one out of the ballpark.

“The scouting report is that he likes his slider,” he said of Benincasa. “The first pitch was a little inside, but he came back with it again and it was right there.”

Until, that is, it was over the fence near the scoreboard of NewBridge Bank Park.

Unlike Clemson, which still had a chance, FSU began the game knowing it would not play for the conference title. That was certain when Georgia Tech, which defeated the Seminoles on Wednesday, beat Virginia earlier Friday. The Noles looked very much like a winner for more than three hours against the Tigers before the improbable took hold.

“I was so proud with the way we played today in a so-called meaningless game,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “The content of the season, the 56 games you played before the tournament, is certainly important, but the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is very important also. And the fact that we knew we had no chance to win it but still played with that fire and emotion makes me very proud as a coach. I feel badly for them, but I assure you that somewhere in this country, the sun will rise tomorrow and, God willing, we will play again.”

Indeed, FSU has a solid shot at the No. 1 national seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

And the Tigers, who were two outs from falling to 0-2 in this event, are still very much alive.

“I’m proud of the way we battled,” Leggett said, “We could have caved in.”

Photo courtesy of the ACC

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