Tigers pounce on Eagles in regional-opening win

Clemson coach Jack Leggett (left) congratulates John Hinson after a sixth-inning home run against Southern Mississippi on Friday.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Clemson starter Scott Weismann carried out his objectives in the cramped confines of Plainsman Park on Friday. The sophomore kept the ball on the ground and avoided bats with late-biting breaking pitches.

Southern Miss starter Scott Copeland did not fare as well.

Clemson routed Copeland and the Golden Eagles, 10-1, in the opening game of the Auburn Regional to advance to tonight's 7 p.m. winner's bracket game.

Copeland entered NCAA play undefeated at 11-0. The problem for the right-hander was Clemson's lineup featured seven left-handed bats, and Copeland, a sinker-slider groundball pitcher, is without a changeup. The changeup is a critical pitch for righties to effectively attack left-handed batters, as it features tailing action.

The result: Clemson knocked Copeland from the game in the sixth inning after he allowed six earned runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings. Copeland walked two and did not strike out a batter.

Will Lamb led off for Clemson (39-21) and reached base four times, including a home run in the fifth, one of two hit off Copeland, who had allowed only four on the season. Copeland was essentially limited to one pitch -- his sinking fastball.

"It was moving, it was running," said Lamb of Copeland's sinker. "It was just a matter of seeing the ball up, and if he threw it low, you knew it was going to be a ball, so you might as well see it up and let it be a strike.

"That was our philosophy going into today, and we executed very well."

Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said he might have been better served by starting Todd McInnis, a righty who had an effective changeup but said the "timing wasn't right," though McInnis had not pitched in a week.

Berry also felt Copeland tired and might have been feeling the effects of having worked on short rest in the Conference USA tournament. Copeland worked out of major damage in the first two innings before unraveling in the fifth and sixth innings, when Clemson built its lead to 4-1 and then 10-1.

Berry lamented several errors that contributed to working Copeland's pitch count up to 107 pitches in little more than five innings.

"It's the most left-handed hitters he has seen," Berry said. "He has no changeup -- that was really the equalizer."

While Copeland was limited to throwing only 85-88 mph fastballs, Weismann (7-2) had his fastball, changeup and breaking pitches working effectively.

Weismann was aggressive early in counts with his fastball, getting ahead of Golden Eagles hitters by throwing 61 of his 90 pitches for strikes. That made his slider and splitter more effective.

"I think keeping the ball low, going in with fastballs was (key)," Weismann said. "For the most part I was getting ahead pretty well. (On offspeed pitches) I stayed back and on top of the ball, finishing the pitch."

Weismann left after a lightning delay following the seventh inning, allowing just one run on four hits, striking out six and inducing six groundball outs. Groundouts are critical in a park with 335- and 360-foot power alleys.

"He kept the ball down and got ahead with a lot a lot of 0-1, 0-2 counts," Southern Miss catcher Travis Graves said. "He commanded the strike zone really well."

Weismann's offspeed pitches were much better than they had been in recent starts. Weismann entered with a 6.72 ERA in his previous six starts, dating back to April 24, but Clemson coach Jack Leggett started Weismann to counter the heavy right-handed lineup of Southern Miss (35-23).

"I wouldn't say we took a chance, but he didn't have a good game last weekend," Leggett said. "He's been a little bit up and down. We put him that No. 1 spot and that worked out really well."

Leggett might have found himself a big-game pitcher in Weismann, who in two NCAA appearances has allowed only one run in 15 innings.

And Leggett is just fine with Weismann saving his best work for last.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.