CLEMSON -- Jack Leggett froze like a statue Sunday afternoon as the Tar Heels rushed from their dugout by the disbelieving Leggett in the third base coach's box to celebrate a 4-3 victory.
Moments earlier, Clemson had loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with one out and Chris Epps eagerly awaiting a 3-1 pitch. The Tigers were on the cusp of their first ACC baseball series win in nearly a month.
It all vanished in three pitches.
On the offering, home plate umpire Mark Chapman delayed making a strike call and Clemson freshman baserunner Richie Shaffer drifted toward second base thinking Epps had walked. University of North Carolina catcher Jacob Stallings alertly threw to first base to pick off Shaffer.
After an argument from Leggett was dismissed, Epps struck out to end the game and send the Tigers to their third straight conference series loss. The defeat continues a month of frustration, potentially costing Clemson (25-16, 11-10 ACC) a chance to host an NCAA Regional.
"I thought he called it a ball," Shaffer said. "I have no one to blame but myself."
It was not the first gaffe of the game for the Tigers, and perhaps not the most costly.
In the first inning, left fielder Jeff Schaus made an ill-advised throw that allowed a runner to advance. Schaus then appeared to run at less than full speed under a Levi Michael fly ball, resulting in a two-run double. While neither play was labeled an error, the miscues led to a three-run first inning.
Leggett removed Schaus during the top of the first for Wilson Boyd.
"You've gotta play defense and you've gotta hustle," said Leggett when asked about the substitution.
The miscues overshadowed an important development. The Tigers might have found a solid weekend starter in freshman right-hander Dominic Leone.
After allowing three runs in the first inning of his first weekend start, thanks to nerves and questionable defense, Leone shut out the Tar Heels for the next seven innings.
The freshman regained his composure and command, spotting his three-pitch mix well to allow just three hits and one walk over the next seven innings. Leone allowed seven hits, three runs, a walk and struck three in eight innings. He threw 72 of his 113 pitches for strikes.
"I was a little anxious, I had a little adrenaline pumping," said Leone of his first inning. "I realized it's just Sunday, it's not any different than any other day."
The hope was if Leone stabilized the back-end of the weekend rotation it would allow Will Lamb to remain in the embattled bullpen. Lamb can throw consistently in the low 90s, and the thought is he'll have increased velocity in a bullpen role.
But Lamb faltered in his second appearance of the day Sunday.
Lamb closed out the secondgame of the series Sunday -- the game had been suspended Saturday due to rain -- to give Clemson a 10-6 win.
Lamb appeared again in the third game, recording the first two outs of the ninth before allowing a single and an RBI double to Brett Knief that scored the game-winning run.
"This team has faced some kind of adversity," Leggett said. "We'll be some tough team before it's over."
The good news is Kyle Parker continues to hit.
Parker smashed his 16th home run of the season in the second game and picked up an RBI single and walk Sunday. But the Clemson offense as a whole endured an uneven weekend performance.
The Tigers understandably struggled against UNC's Matt Harvey on Friday. Harvey hit 96 mph on his final pitch of the game Friday -- his 157th offering -- en route to striking out 15 Tigers in a UNC 5-3 win.
But Clemson also struggled with UNC's No. 3 starter Patrick Johnson, who allowed just one earned run in 8 1/3 innings.
The Tigers believe they are close, but frustration in all phases of the game continued Sunday.
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