GREENSBORO — Clemson first baseman Jon McGibbon stunned Florida State and kept the Tigers’ ACC tournament championship hopes alive with a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth Friday evening in a 9-7 win against the regular-season champion Seminoles at NewBridge Bank Park.
Clemson (33-25) will face Georgia Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday, as both schools and Virginia still have a shot to win their pool and advance to Sunday’s noon championship game.
“I think our kids really battled hard today,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “It seemed like every time we got closer, they would grab one. It was just a team effort. Relief pitching was good. A real key was when they loaded the bases with one out in the fourth and (Kevin) Brady was able to pitch out of it. And we got some big hits along the way.”
McGibbon’s blast to right-center came off Florida State’s all-conference reliever Robert Benincasa, who came into the game with outstanding numbers. Benincasa, a right-hander, was 4-0 with 13 saves and had given up just 16 hits over 32 innings in 26 appearances. He also had 45 strikeouts and batters were hitting just .143 against him.
McGibbon’s heroics were set up in the eighth when Spencer Kieboom greeted Benincasa with a two-run double to cut the Seminoles lead to 7-6.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers’ best hitter, Richie Shaffer struck out to lead off. Designated hitter Phil Pohl then singled up the middle and pinch-hitter Mike Dunster reached on an infield single.
McGibbon then ended the game on the second pitch with his second homer of the tournament and fifth of the season.
“Slider right down the middle,” McGibbon said of the pitch. “The scouting report was he likes his slider. The first one was a little in, but he came back with it again and the second pitch was right there.”
Clemson took a 1-0 lead in the second but fell behind 4-1 the next inning and trailed the rest of the game until the final blow.
“Clemson did a great job keeping their poise, coming back, and getting the job done,” said Florida State coach Mike Martin, whose team played knowing it lost its shot at a championship game appearance when Georgia Tech won earlier. “But to see us play with that fire and emotion, even with no chance to win (the tournament), makes me very proud.
“This young man (starting pitcher Brandon Liebrandt) has pitched beautifully for us all year, and I guess Benincasa proved he’s human because he has pitched almost flawlessly all season.”