No. 3 FSU rallies late to top Clemson in ACC softball final

Valerie Cagle gutted out 5 2/3 innings but the Seminoles got to her late. (ACC softball Twitter photo)

The No. 15-ranked Clemson softball team held a lead for a third time in four games this season with the No. 3-ranked Florida State Seminoles, but following the script of those first two in Tallahassee, the Seminoles came back for the win – this time for the ACC Softball Championship at Vartabedian Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday, 8-6.

The loss ended a six-game winning streak since that FSU series for the Tigers (39-15) that have all but secured an NCAA Regional hosting bid next week.

Leading 5-4 in the sixth inning, the Tigers had a chance to add some insurance with two in scoring position and two out, but FSU reliever Kathryn Sandercock struck out Cammy Pereira to end the threat.

After two Seminoles reached to start the FSU (52-5) sixth, a sacrifice fly brought in the tying run. As Tigers starter Valerie Cagle (15-8) topped the 100-pitch mark, a walk and then an intentional walk with two out set the stage for Mack Leonard’s three-run homer to right field.

Clemson’s McKenzie Clark led off the Tigers’ seventh with a single and the Tigers put two on with one out to bring the tying run to the plate. Another Logoleo‘s RBI single to left field cut into the FSU lead, but the threat ended with a Sam Russ line-out to the Seminoles shortstop.

The Tigers will await the announcement of their NCAA Regional opponents in a 7 pm ESPN2 show on Sunday.

“So proud of our team and their effort,” said Tigers coach John Rittman. “The battle that every game was this week and the way we came out and played was fantastic. What impresses me most about this team is that we never give. up, we just keep fighting. Today was a classic example of that, two teams going back and forth. It wasn’t the cleanest game by either team, but I loved the way our team fought back. Especially after the three-run home “To put the winning run at the plate says a lot about our program. A lot of heart, a lot of character, and that’s going to bode well for us as we head into the next chapter of our season.”

The tournament title was an eighth for the Seminoles.

Clark worked a full count in her first at-bat and beat out a throw from third base on an infield hit, which went wayward and sent Russ around third base for Clemson’s first score.

The lead was short-lived as FSU’s first three batters reached to load the bases at the bottom of the first, with the Seminoles tying things up on a Cagle wild pitch and FSU’s Devyn Flaherty furthered the damage with a two-run single. Cagle was able to strand the bases loaded with a groundball to end the Seminoles rally.

Clemson’s first two batters reached base in the second inning, and after a grounder moved them into scoring position, that marked the end of the day for Seminoles starter Brianna Enter and brought on Danielle Watson, who then loaded the bases with a walk. Maddie Moore brought Clemson back a run closer with a run-scoring, foul ball out. After the bases were loaded again via walk, Clark delivered the lead-changing two-run double down the left field line, for a 4-3 edge.

The lead vanished quickly again with a two-out, opposite-field solo homer from FSU’s Kalei Harding in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game.

Clemson retook the lead in the fourth frame with a Russ solo shot to deep to center field.

The Tigers have reached the ACC Softball Championship final in both ones they’ve participated in, after winning the regular season last year and losing 1-0 in the championship to Duke.

“A lot of experience going forward as a young program,” Rittman said. “We’ve been in this game twice, and that alone is an accomplishment. We definitely want to get over the hump and win a championship. When you get into these tournament games, it’s great preparation for next weekend. We’re pretty confident. we’re going to be able to host a regional at home, and that’ll be a first for our program. ”


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