Liberty tops Clemson in Columbia Regional

COLUMBIA – All week, players and coaches from Clemson and South Carolina squirmed, constantly hearing they were preordained to face off for a regional baseball title again.

Imagine how Liberty and Saint Louis must have felt being told they had no chance.

Flames fifth-year senior catcher Trey Wimmer, extremely familiar with the Tigers, went out and did something about it.

Wimmer derailed the dreamy Clemson-USC matchup – at least for now – with a scintillating six-RBI performance, lifting Liberty to an 8-3 romp over Clemson Friday afternoon to open the NCAA Columbia Regional in front of 5,604 fans – most of them wearing orange and purple, shaking their heads on their way out of Carolina Stadium.

Wimmer was plenty motivated, hailing from Greenwood, S.C. situated halfway between Clemson and Columbia.

The kid who grew up rooting for Clemson (and whose brother attends the university) went 1-2-3 in the RBI column in his first three at-bats, yielding a sacrifice fly, a 2-run double and a no-doubt 3-run homer to left to blow the game open.

The six runs batted in are the most Clemson has allowed an individual this year. It’s not an easy feat; nobody on the Tigers’ current roster has ever driven in six runs in a Clemson uniform.

The guy throwing to Wimmer’s mitt wasn’t bad either. Starter Josh Richardson (4-4) retired 17 consecutive Tigers in his third straight 8-inning outing and second career complete game, taming the Tigers (39-21) in an overall flat outing at the worst possible time.

If Clemson’s staff isn’t in disarray, it’s at least drained after using six different pitchers on a toasty afternoon. Starter Zack Erwin (5-2) took the quick hook after just 2 2/3 innings, finding the strike zone on 30 of 43 pitches but letting the Flames find their groove at the plate.

The Tigers’ gloves also weren’t sharp, committing a pair of errors.

Liberty’s bats went boom or bust – 13 hits, 11 strikeouts – and it paid off, landing in Saturday night’s assignment and safe from elimination until at least Sunday. The Flames (35-27) have won six straight, surging from its roll to the Big South championship.

Meanwhile, Clemson is forced to flip over from its six-game slide on the double. Unless it wins four games in three days – beginning Saturday at 2 p.m. against Friday night’s South Carolina-Saint Louis loser – the Tigers won’t survive to see a super regional.

The top of the lineup did the only damage for Clemson. Steven Duggar singled home Thomas Brittle twice in their first two times through the order.

There was a Liberty mound meeting after the first three batters Richardson faced, and the visiting bullpen was already active without even recording an out.

But Richardson, a converted reliever, found his zone in the third inning – following Duggar’s second RBI single to cut the Liberty lead to 3-2, he set down the next 17 Tigers in succession. Duggar’s single broke the streak to lead off the ninth inning, finishing 3-for-4 with a run and two RBIs.

Junior first baseman Jon McGibbon has been ruled out for the weekend with a hamstring injury; freshman Kevin Bradley started in his place.