Cle­mens’ big bat leads Texas back to Omaha

The Oklahoman - - SPORTS - BY JIM VERTUNO

The As­so­ci­ated Press

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Kody Cle­mens had just launched an­other mas­sive post­sea­son home run when he stared hard into the op­pos­ing dugout and flashed the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand sign.

It was the sort of bravado that has come to de­fine the Cle­mens name at Texas and in base­ball in gen­eral. And like his fa­ther Roger did more than 30 years ago, Kody Cle­mens has led the Longhorns back to the Col­lege World Se­ries with out­sized con­fi­dence and the tal­ent in a big bat to back it up.

“Kody just keeps hit­ting home runs,” said Texas in­fielder Jake McKen­zie. “We’re ex­cited every time he comes to the plate.”

There’s a gen­uine cu­rios­ity just where the ball will land af­ter he makes con­tact — and what he will do when round­ing the bases. Cle­mens ig­nited the Longhorns in an NCAA re­gional win over tra­di­tional ri­val Texas A&M when he stared into the third base dugout as he trot­ted home af­ter launch­ing a three-run homer in an 8-3 win.

“If you don’t like it,” Texas A&M coach Rob Chil­dress told his play­ers af­ter Cle­mens’ icy stare, “make a bet­ter pitch.”

Cle­mens wasn’t done. In the su­per re­gional against Ten­nessee Tech, he smashed an­other long shot and flipped his bat be­fore flip­ping the hook ‘em sign at the dugout as he rounded third. The blast came in a 4-2 win that kept Texas alive in the tour­na­ment. He hit his third homer of the su­per re­gional in a win that sent Texas (42-21) to the Col­lege World Se­ries for a record 36th time. Their opener comes Sun­day against Ar­kan­sas (44-19).

Cle­mens hit just five home runs in a des­ig­nated hit­ter role last sea­son af­ter Tommy John surgery. His 24 homers this sea­son rank sec­ond in school his­tory be­hind Kyle Rus­sell’s 28 in 2007. He is 11 of 22 with five home runs in the post­sea­son.

The the­atrics af­ter some of the big­gest ones con­jure me­mories of the feisti­ness of his fa­ther, who won seven Cy Young awards in the ma­jor leagues. Roger Cle­mens once threw the shards of a shat­tered bat to­ward Mike Pi­azza in the 2000 World Se­ries, a tense mo­ment that caused both benches to clear.

Roger Cle­mens pitched Texas to the 1983 Col­lege World Se­ries ti­tle, go­ing the dis­tance in a 4-3 win over Alabama to clinch the ti­tle. Kody Cle­mens will be the third Cle­mens to play in the Col­lege World Se­ries with Texas. His older brother, Kacy, made it there with the Longhorns in 2014.

Kody Cle­mens said car­ry­ing the Cle­mens name to Omaha un­der the Texas flag doesn’t bring any ex­tra pres­sure.

Few pitch­ers have been able to han­dle Cle­mens this sea­son. He is bat­ting .356 with 15 dou­bles and 72 RBI. He was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Tigers.

Texas coach David Pierce called Cle­mens the leader on the field and in the dugout.

“He’s been a guy that guys grav­i­tate around and they like him,” Pierce said. “There’s no ar­ro­gance or any­thing. He’s one of them, a team­mate. In their eyes, he’s no more im­por­tant than the bullpen catcher or the stu­dent man­ager, and that’s the way we do it around here.

“But in the game he’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle more im­por­tant.”

[AP PHOTO]

Texas in­fielder Kody Cle­mens hugs head coach David Pierce (22) af­ter beat­ing Ten­nessee Tech in the su­per re­gional Mon­day in Austin, Texas.

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