Omaha-bound Tigers escape Oral Roberts twice

Upstart Oral Roberts proved it belonged in the NCAA baseball super regionals, but Clemson proved it belongs in the College World Series, writes David Albright.

Updated: June 11, 2006, 12:44 AM ET
By David Albright | ESPN.com

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Upstart Oral Roberts proved it belonged in the NCAA baseball super regionals.

For two days, the Golden Eagles looked every bit the equal of national power Clemson. But for two days, ORU couldn't find a way to put away the host Tigers.

So the Mid-Continent champions, who last weekend won the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional, now find themselves heading back home to Tulsa after a pair of heartbreaking late-inning losses in the Clemson Super Regional.

AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainClemson's Stan Widmann turns a double play in the 8th inning of Saturday's super regional win.
On Friday, ORU found itself ahead on four separate occasions. But Jack Leggett's club found a way to tie or take the lead each time, including a walk-off grand slam by left fielder Tyler Colvin in the ninth inning that gave the Tigers an 11-8 win at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

In Saturday's win-or-go-home elimination game, the Golden Eagles again took an early lead and this time were able to hold it until the top of the eighth, when a line drive by Clemson shortstop Stan Widmann off ORU reliever Erik Crichton -- on a 1-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two outs -- just cleared the outstretched glove of shortstop Tim Torres and found its way into left center field for a two-run single.

"He gave me a pitch that I could handle," Widmann said. "I just put a good swing on it and somehow it got through. It looked like the shortstop was going to catch it, but somehow it was out of reach."

That somehow turned a 5-4 ORU lead into a 6-5 season-ending loss.

"We needed to bounce a breaking ball to Widmann," ORU coach Rob Walton said. "If we bounce it, we're pretty sure he's going to swing through it. So we're just trying to bounce one short and it just didn't happen. That's what they did really well this weekend. When we hung a breaking ball, they didn't miss it. And we just hung way too many."

So instead of sending the Golden Eagles (41-16) to Omaha for their first College World Series trip since 1978, Clemson (52-14) will head to Nebraska for its 11th CWS appearance.

"We were confident that if we had to play tomorrow we were still in good shape," Leggett said. "But we didn't want to play tomorrow. If the other team wins the second ball game, the momentum shifts away from you a little bit and you start feeling pressure a little bit. This was a very tough ball game to win, but we had to do everything we could to make this one go in our favor."

The Golden Eagles scored in each of the first three innings to take a 4-0 lead before Clemson finally woke up in the fourth with a three-run homer by second baseman Taylor Harbin.

Even then, it appeared ORU would find a way to hang on -- until that fateful eighth.

That's when Clemson proved why it's the top overall seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

"Timely hits in key moments is what really did it," Walton said. "We had a chance to bury them early, but when you leave eight runners on base in the first three innings … if you allow talented clubs to stay within a run or two, then something can happen.

"It's unfortunate that we couldn't push it through. I thought we competed well for two days and either game could have gone either way, but they just did a better job than we did of capitalizing in the moment."

There were three batters who came to the plate with two outs before Widmann in the top of the eighth. All three -- Colvin, Harbin and first baseman Andy D'Alessio -- came within one strike of ending the rally. And all three kept the inning alive for Widmann to pick up the game-winning hit.

Up next for the Tigers is a familiar face in fellow ACC member Georgia Tech, which won its super regional on Saturday with a sweep of College of Charleston in Atlanta.

Clemson has now won 24 of its last 25 games, with its lone loss coming at the hands of Georgia Tech on May 27 in the ACC tournament. But the Tigers plan to enjoy this latest milestone for a few days before looking ahead to the Yellow Jackets.

"I'm just glad it's over," Leggett said. "It's a battle just to get there. When you get down to 16 teams left, there's not much difference between any of one those teams. Any one of them can end up in Omaha."

In this case, the team with "Omaha" stitched into the tiger paw on the back of its caps is the one that proved it belongs on college baseball's biggest stage.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.

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