Cardinals’ four home runs pound Clemson, Tigers drop pivotal series

CLEMSON – Louisville always has been famous for its sluggers.

Four home runs by four Cardinals rallied No. 4 Louisville, while Clemson’s bullpen came undone in a disheartening 9-5 defeat Monday night to settle a critical series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Louisville sophomores Nick Solak and Corey Ray went back-to-back in the top of the eighth, flipping the Tigers from up a run to down a run, and the ACC-leading Cards (37-11, 21-3 ACC) went on to clinch their ninth consecutive series.

Meanwhile, host Clemson (24-23, 13-13) missed a chance to accomplish multiple tasks: win a series over a top-five opponent for the first time in three years, stay above .500 in ACC play and give Hall of Fame coach Jack Leggett a major boost heading into an uncertain offseason.

“I like the way we’re playing, I like the way we’re battling,” said Leggett, facing questions about his job security after being retained last summer. “I’m not giving up on these kids, and they’re not giving up. They deserved a better fate, and we let it slide away in the eighth.”

Against Tigers reliever Clate Schmidt (1-3) Solak socked a no-doubt blast deep in to the left-field seats to tie the game at 5, and Ray sent his 11th home run of the year out to right for the eventual game-winner. Louisville pushed across four runs in its decisive eighth frame.

The Tigers took their first lead in the bottom of the seventh on Eli White’s RBI single, but Schmidt, Alex Bostic and Taylor Vetzel could not close the deal.

White went 3-for-5 and scored a pair of runs. Starting pitcher Jake Long gave the Tigers a chance, yielding four runs (three earned) in six-plus innings, though he was taken deep by Cards freshmen Brendan McKay and Blake Tiberi.

“Left the ball up. Jake threw a couple pitches up in the zone, Clate threw a couple pitched right over the middle of the plate,” Leggett said.

Clemson did not have an extra-base hit Monday, and stranded 13 runners.

“It is frustrating. We were in every single game expecting to win,” said White of the series. “So it’s tough, but that’s baseball sometimes.”

It’s a busy week for the Tigers, who have a brief road trip Tuesday to Wofford before hosting No. 19 College of Charleston (35-9). The Cougars have won eight straight, and 25 of 28 games since March 17.

Although Clemson took both games vs. Duke in a shortened set, the Tigers have now dropped four of five 3-game series at home this spring and are 13-13 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

“Surprises me,” Leggett said. “I don’t know what it is. I wish I had the answer.”

With four home games remaining – Wednesday vs. Charleston and next weekend vs. Georgia Southern – the Tigers are in danger of recording their worst home mark in Doug Kingsmore Stadium’s 46-year history. Other than an 8-7 mark in 1973, Clemson has never failed to win fewer than 58 percent of its games in its current ballpark.