Clemson’s first trip to the NCAA softball tournament ended as much because of circumstance as it did by play on the field.
The Tigers won more than 40 games and an ACC title in their first full season fielding a team. For that, they were given a trip to the Tuscaloosa Regional hosted by the tournament No. 3 overall seed Alabama, which had won 15 regionals in a row and attended 10 College World Series since the 2005 season.
The young Tigers faced a tall task, and the experienced Tide twice flexed its muscles as one of the top teams in the sport, a place Clemson is gunning to reach.
Clemson fell 5-0 in Tuscaloosa on Sunday to end a ride of a season. The Tigers (44-8) had topped Troy on Saturday to reach Sunday’s finals. After a 6-0 loss to the Tide on Saturday, Clemson did not fare much better Sunday as it tried to extend the double-elimination regional one more game. The Tide (48-7) move on to face the winner of the Kentucky regional.
Alabama jumped ahead early, first with small ball and then with a bomb. A leadoff single, steal and wild pitch put Alexis Mack in position to score on a sacrifice fly. In the second inning, Crimson Tide shortstop Taylor Clark tagged Tigers ace Valerie Cagle (28-7) with a three-run home run.
Clemson left runners on in the second and third, but a double play ended one threat, and the Tigers could never solve Tide pitcher Montana Fouts (21-3), who allowed two hits in the first six innings and struck out nine.
Cagle struck out five in 6 2/3 innings, tearfully departing the game in the seventh.
The loss ends an impressive first full run for the Tigers. Clemson’s inaugural season as a program in 2020 was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. This year, with Cagle ascending in her second year, the Tigers closed the regular season with 42 wins and a No. 13 national ranking.
They edged powerhouse Florida State for the ACC regular-season title, winning 29 conference games and losing only five. Clemson has only two seniors set to depart (both grad transfers), so the squad should bring a large amount of continuity into the 2022 season.