FULLERTON, CALIF. — Three home runs rallied No. 18 Arizona State to a 7-4 victory Friday at Goodwin Field to open the NCAA Fullerton Region and send Clemson to the brink of elimination.
Clemson (32-28) has now lost 11 of its last 16 NCAA Tournament outings — all in the regional round — since its 2010 College World Series appearance. The Tigers also have dropped three straight regional openers.
First baseman Joey Bielek’s two-run homer in the seventh inning pushed the Sun Devils (35-21) ahead by a run, and catcher Brian Serven gave ASU back-to-back homers on Matthew Crownover’s next pitch for a 4-2 advantage.
“Matthew (Crownover) battled for us as he always does,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “They did a good job of putting some swings on some pitches when they had to ... give them credit. They came back and did what they had to do late in the ballgame. Our team showed the same kind of battle we’ve been doing all year and figuring out a way to get ourselves back in the hunt at the end.
“We’ve been in this position before. Now, you just have to battle. You have to relax, come out and be ready to play ball again. We have to get some rest and come out with the right mindset to be able to play (Saturday).”
After Clemson first baseman Andrew Cox’s two-run, two-out single gave Clemson a 2-0 lead, ASU right fielder Trever Allen homered to lead off the fifth. Crownover (10-3, 1.82 ERA) had only allowed four home runs in his first 15 starts this year.
Crownover did strike out nine Sun Devils, tying a career high, including five while retiring the first 10 Sun Devils he faced. But the first-team All-American southpaw might have pitched his last game in a Clemson uniform if the Tigers can’t come back to win the region and Crownover decides to enter the MLB Draft.
He was beaten by fellow lefty Ryan Kellogg (9-2), who allowed two runs on six hits and four walks in seven innings.
The Tigers’ top reliever, Taylor Vetzel, was touched up for three insurance runs in the eighth.
Right fielder Steven Duggar went 3-for-5 for the Tigers, while Cox, shortstop Eli White and third baseman Weston Wilson also had multiple hits — but the Tigers’ only extra-base effort was a Wilson double. Clemson’s leading three hitters and heart of the order — Tyler Krieger, Reed Rohlman and Chris Okey — went 0-for-10, and the Tigers stranded eight runners.
Clemson plays the loser of Friday night’s late game between regional host Cal State Fullerton (34-22) and No. 4 seed Pepperdine (30-27). Needing to win four games in the next three games to advance to a super regional, Clemson’s next game will be Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, available to watch on ESPN3.com.