FULLERTON, Calif. — June is when champions are made in college baseball. May is when the Clemson Tigers now find themselves cleaning out lockers, wondering how they got here and worrying where they go from here.
For the second consecutive year, but just the third time in a decade, Clemson’s season ends before the calendar flips to June — and for the fifth straight spring, the longest streak since Hall of Fame coach Jack Leggett took over, the Tigers could not win a regional championship.
The merciful end came Saturday afternoon at the hands of Pepperdine, just three games over the .500 mark, as the Waves’ wild 10-8 victory at Goodwin Field finalized the Tigers at 32-29. That’s the second-fewest wins in Leggett’s Clemson career, and second-most losses in Tigers program history.
It’s also five losses in six NCAA Tournament games, and 12 losses in the last 17 outings since being eliminated from the 2010 College World Series.
Clemson almost pulled off a crazy comeback, trailing 7-0 in the middle of the sixth. But the Tigers stormed back to take an 8-7 lead, capitalized by Tyler Slaton’s go-ahead triple in the bottom of the seventh.
However, Pepperdine tied it in the top of the eighth, and put across two runs in the top of the ninth to survive the flurry. The Waves pounded out 16 hits to Clemson’s 12.
Clemson starter Zack Erwin got touched up for seven runs (six earned) in 5 1/3 innings, and reliever Pat Krall took the loss.
Although a recent surge — a sweep at Florida State, a win over No. 3 Louisville in the ACC Tournament and a surprise berth in the NCAA field — earned Leggett some brownie points, the following fact is ominous. Since the evening of May 21, 2014, when athletic director Dan Radakovich demanded improvement when evaluating Leggett’s future at Clemson, the Tigers have won 33 times and lost 32 times.
If Radakovich decides to go the opposite route he took a year ago at this time, Leggett’s buyout dictates he’d be owed $200,000 over the course of the next 12 months upon being dismissed. Otherwise, Leggett is due a $400,000 salary until the expiration of his contract next summer — unless Radakovich decides to offer an extension or reworked deal.