Clemson’s first taste of postseason softball let the Tigers experience the high-wire energy of playing with so much on the line.
And after a Saturday afternoon at Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium dragged into the latter half of the game scoreless, the Tigers were not able to pull off the win and secure a first ACC tournament title in the first try.
Duke pushed the game’s only run across the plate in the top of the sixth inning and ultimately won 1-0 to deny the Tigers in the conference tournament title. Clemson (42-6), the regular season ACC champion, had topped Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in shutout fashion, and the Blue Devils got the first run off Tigers ace Valarie Cagle in the tournament.
But it wasn’t easy.
Duke (42-10) needed a single, steal, walk and wild pitch to get runners on second and third. Kamryn Jackson grounded out off the end of the bat to drive in Deja Davis. No ball left the infield in the inning.
Clemson was not able to get the run back in the final two frames.
Playing for a conference title is another step on what has been a whirlwind few seasons for John Rittman’s young program. The team was assembled and stadium built well before games were on the slate, as seven players went through redshirt years on a squad that couldn’t field a full practice lineup.
The 2020 season started well, with a 19-8 record, with five wins in six ACC games. But the COVID pandemic upset everything, ending the inaugural season.
The race along the comeback trail has been a rampage. Clemson ripped off winning streaks this season of 19 and 17 games. They’ve got one of the best players in the country in Cagle.
Now the Tigers will have to wait on their postseason path. They’re in a good spot to host a regional, maybe more. The NCAA bracket will be revealed Sunday night.
Next for Clemson softball
What: NCAA 2021 softball tournament selection show
When: 9 p.m. Sunday