What: NCAA regional loser's bracket
Who: Clemson (36-24) vs. Vanderbilt/Xavier loser
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Hawkins Field, Nashville
NASHVILLE - It started with some promise. It ended as badly as imaginably possible.
Clemson's 1-0 lead in the top of the first - the first run scored in the 2014 NCAA baseball tournament - was rendered a red herring, once speedy and powerful Oregon responded with 18 unanswered runs to trounce the Tigers 18-1 Friday afternoon at Hawkins Field.
"The bottom line is they outhit us, outpitched us, outplayed us," Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. "The good thing is, regardless what the score is, it's one game."
Crushed by the short game and long ball, the long and short of the situation is Clemson (36-24) finds itself on the brink of elimination, now forced to win four games in three days to survive the regional.
"That's the plan. My goal is to make (the players) believe they can do it," Leggett said. "My mindset is focused on winning the first ballgame, and giving ourselves an opportunity Sunday and Monday."
Incredibly, there is precedent for such a recovery from a blowout loss.
Although it was close, Friday wasn't the worst margin of defeat for a Clemson club in the NCAA postseason. That dubious distinction belongs to the 1999 team, which lost to Missouri State 23-5 to open a regional --only to top Delaware and host Arkansas before beating back Missouri State twice and advancing to Leggett's third super regional in his sixth year leading the Tigers.
It's going to require some kind of Music City miracle for Clemson to come back against the likes of Oregon (43-18), host Vanderbilt and Xavier, particularly coming off the program's most lopsided loss since the 2006 season, when Georgia Tech smashed the Tigers 22-4.
"Everyone's got to be 100 percent behind all their teammates, every at-bat, every pitch," senior second baseman Steve Wilkerson said. "We've got to believe in ourselves."
Not to suggest a 17-run drubbing came down to an extra base here or there, but that basically sums how Oregon turned an early lead into a hefty cushion, and then a downright laugher.
The Ducks pride themselves on getting on base by any means necessary, moving the man over and occasionally providing the big blast.
In eight innings at the plate Friday, Oregon tallied two home runs, three triples, three doubles, three sacrifice bunts, five stolen bases and five Ducks getting hit by a pitch.
"They got a lot going with the bunt game - that's kind of the game they play, West Coast-style," Wilkerson said. "We were ready for it, we had a gameplan; the bottom line was they executed what they were doing; we were ready for it."
Oregon catcher Shaun Chase (2-for-5, 4 RBI) and right fielder Tyler Baumgartner banged back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning, quickly extending a 3-1 edge to 7-1 and chasing sophomore left-handed starter Matthew Crownover.
Crownover (8-6) sustained his worst start in a Clemson uniform, knocked around for eight runs (all earned), though he struck out seven Ducks.
Entering Friday with the fourth-lowest team batting average (.259) among 64 NCAA teams, Oregon hit 10-for-20 against Crownover, who allowed more than two earned runs for just the sixth time in 30 career starts.
"This is not something you dream about," Crownover said. "It's baseball, it happens. I picked a heck of a day for it to happen."
Once Clemson rolled out its bottom-of-the-barrel relievers to preserve its bullpen, Oregon kept raking with a seven-run sixth inning.
"It's not an ideal feeling," Wilkerson said. "At some point, you just feel helpless."
Wilkerson provided Clemson's lone run, a two-out single plating Tyler Slaton in the top of the first. Clemson was stymied by Ducks southpaw Tommy Thorpe (11-4), scattering five hits over seven innings.
The Tigers will try to prolong their season in the double-elimination format Saturday at 2 p.m. EST against Friday night's loser of Vanderbilt and Xavier.
Clemson's top pitcher, righty Daniel Gossett (7-1, 1.78 ERA), will take the mound, looking to ensure the Tigers win at least one NCAA tournament game for the 27th time in 28 years.
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