Wilkerson’s back-to-back blasts help Clemson bounce back

Clemson's Steve Wilkerson (17) is greeted at home plated by teammates after hitting a three-run home run during the fourth inning of an NCAA college†baseball†tournament†regional†game against Saint Louis on Saturday, June 1, 2013, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Mary Ann Chastain

Too proud to go home winless for the second postseason weekend in a row, Clemson rallied to snap a six-game losing streak, riding the rare long ball and booting Saint Louis 10-2 Saturday afternoon before an announced attendance of 5,485 fans at Carolina Stadium in the NCAA Columbia Regional losers’ bracket.

Junior second baseman Steve Wilkerson reverted from slumping to slamming, driving in a career-high five runs with a couple of balls over the wall in consecutive frames. Junior third baseman Shane Kennedy joined Wilkerson with his fifth home run in the third, the first time this season Clemson went deep twice in one inning and the club’s first 3-homer day all year.

Wilkerson, who was 1-for-16 in the ACC tournament, squared his home run total to four this season. Clemson hitters had rounded the bases just 19 times this year entering Saturday, ranking 9th in the league.

After a long day for the Clemson bullpen Friday, staff ace Daniel Gossett (10-4) bore the brunt on the mound, laboring through 115 pitches but allowing just two runs in six innings of work.

The sophomore right-hander walked five, but stranded seven runners, good enough for Gossett to become Clemson’s first 10-game winner since Matt Henrie and Steve Reba each earned 13 victories in the 2002 season.

Side-arm reliever Kyle Schnell took care of the final three innings, keeping Saint Louis off the scoreboard for his second save.

Kennedy went 3-for-5, his second such output in four games. Tigers cleanup hitter Garrett Boulware, a week after being named all-ACC tournament catcher, is 0-for-7 in the regional.

Clemson poured it on with three insurance runs in the ninth, including an RBI single for freshman Kevin Bradley, who’s replacing regular first baseman Jon McGibbon (hamstring) this weekend.

The regional’s fourth seed, Saint Louis closed out at 41-21. Slugger Alex Kelly was 3-for-4, depositing his 12th home run and 61st RBI into the Clemson bullpen leading off the fifth. Starter Nick Bates (8-4) was chased following Wilkerson’s second homer, a 3-run blast in the fourth.

This marks Clemson’s fourth 40-win season in the past five years, and 16th in 20 years under coach Jack Leggett.

With their backs against the wall, the No. 2-seeded Tigers (40-21) prolonged their season to Sunday at 1 p.m., when they’ll face Saturday night’s loser of Liberty (35-27), which beat Clemson Friday, and rival South Carolina (40-18) in another elimination game. The Flames and Gamecocks tangle Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.