AUBURN, Ala. -- A regional title was there, residing in Tomas Cruz's right hand. Clemson was one hard-biting slider away. Two strikes, two outs, two runners on, Clemson leading by two in the top of the ninth.
Then it was gone.
Hopes of a Clemson Sunday night celebration vanished beyond the left-center wall at Plainsman Park, as Creede Simpson rerouted a Cruz pitch, producing a majestic arc, the ball falling somewhere beyond the 385 sign into the night. It was grandstand-rattling moment Auburn partisans called perhaps the greatest in the history of their park.
The three-run blast gave Auburn an 11-10 win, forcing a deciding game in the Auburn Regional at 7 p.m. today.
The noise, the pressure began bubbling up for Cruz when he was summoned into the game to get one out and extinguish a seventh-inning fire. His first two warm-up pitches went to the backstop, drawing jeers from the crowd.
"You could tell early he didn't have the same stuff he had had," Leggett said.
Still, Leggett stuck with his veteran reliever.
After a solid 2009 campaign, Cruz, who entered with a 5.40 ERA, had struggled this spring, before regaining the trust of the staff with seven score-less outings over his last nine appearances.
But the slider wasn't breaking like it had late in the season.
In the seventh, the noise rose to a boil as Cruz hit a batter, walked a batter and allowed an infield single in succession to tie the score at eight, producing a noise level that reached that of a rock concert's encore.
Cruz slipped out of a complete disaster thanks to an excellent defensive play by third baseman John Hinson, who bare-handed a slow roller in one motion and threw to first to end the bases-loaded jam.
Cruz was not as fortunate in the ninth.
He recorded two outs but had walked a batter, before inducing a Justin Fradejas pop-up to shallow center. Clemson second baseball Mike Freeman tracked the ball well, getting a glove on it, before it glanced to the turf.
Leggett visited the mound, and hard-throwing freshman Kevin Brady, who touched 94 mph at the ACC tournament, ran out from the bullpen, just crossing the left-field line.
Brady was told to go back, what Leggett said was a miscommunication.
If he had trotted to the center of the diamond, maybe a better outcome awaited.
Leggett who had pulled starter Will Lamb after just 3 2/3 innings (six hits, two earned runs) and held a short leash with relievers Jonathan Myer (IP, 3ER) and David Haselden (2IP, 3ER) stuck with Cruz.
"We were going to stick with Cruz," Leggett said. "Tomas has been our guy at end of year, he has been in these types of games."
Leggett left the mound making no change.
Cruz met a pinch-hitter named Creede Simpson, whom the Clemson staff knee little.
Simpson's fifth home run of the year, came off a two-seamer Simpson said came back over the heart of the place.
Sound and swept down from the Plainsman Park grandstands, and the adjacent parking garage
The Tigers had rallied from a four-run deficit, scoring seven runs in the fifth to take an 8-5 lead.
After Auburn rallied to tie the score at eight in the seventh, Clemson responded with a Mike Freeman RBI double, for a 9-8 lead.
Instead of celebrating the Tigers' resolve will be tested once more as it was in the Clemson Regional last spring,, winning on a Monday.
"The only thing we can do from here is flush it," Freeman said. "Our guys will be ready. We have done it before."