That's where we stand at the end of three weeks. This isn't where I expected to be with most of our pitching staff returning. Breaking in a new lineup is almost always tough, but the consensus at the beginning of the season was that Clemson would be able to rely on their pitching staff to get through the early/close/tough games. Coming into this weekend, that simply hadn't been the case; the lineup had struggled early in games, and the pitching staff (specifically Haselden and Meyer) had been getting knocked around, and it was costing us games that we should be winning.
Enter this weekend. We get second ranked Sakerlina in a three game set that honestly, I don't think anybody was optimistic about. It seems like we haven't beaten them in any sport since Obama took office, and the Cocks were sporting a pitching staff and then some. As inconsistent as we have been, USC was just the opposite, dominating with their pitching, even carrying a no hitter into the 7th or later in two games in their previous weekend's series. Needless to say, it was going to take an amazing effort in all phases of the game to win this series.
After the first game of the series, a nailbiter which saw the Tigers lose in extra innings, it seemed as though there may not be a reason to panic. Our offense was crap (which has come to be expected), but our pitching, and more particularly our bullpen, really held their own with USC's staff. Still though, that was a game that Clemson should have won. To have a team like USC on the ropes for that long, you have to finish them off. USC rode the momentum from that first win to a win in the second game, ultimately taking the series 2-1.
Individual game specifics and overall recap after the jump.
Friday : Sakerlina 3 , Clemson 2
As a baseball fan, this game was amazing to watch. One of those you hate to see end.
As a Tiger fan, this game could be viewed in two different ways: You either thought "Hey, looks like we can find some motivation and hang with these guys after all. This series may not be as bad as I first thought.", or you may have thought "Marzilli makes a catch like THAT to end the game for us. So it's going to be THAT kind of series, huh?"
I honestly thought that after an effort like that from Kevin Brady (6 IP, 4 H, 1 Run), who pitched his tail off again, and Matt Campbell coming on and doing well (3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R), that Clemson really came to play and we could be looking at something decent after all. However, you can't score only 2 runs in 11 innings and expect to win the ball game. I don't care if Michael Roth is pitching, he's a junkballer. He throws changeup after changeup an breaking ball after breaking ball, trying to make his 82 mph fastball look like something decent. He throws a lot of strikes, I get that. Clemson tried to take the approach of swinging early and often, trying to hit the good pitches he gave them. This approach can work if you're facing a guy who doesn't nibble at the corners and leaves a lot of pitches over the plate. Roth doesn't do that. He keeps the ball away, away, away, and then comes in every now and then to try and keep hitters honest. Bottom line is: he's their number one pitcher for a reason, he does get results. That's all the more reason to make him throw pitches and get him out of the game earlier. Roth doesn't throw hard enough to where any hitter should be afraid to hit with two strikes; if you don't like the pitch, foul it off and see another. Any college hitter who is worth their salt should have enough bat control to get up there and battle Roth until they walk or get something to hit. I'm not expecting a base hit every time, of course hitters miss from time to time. But there's no reason to go up there and hit a little dribbler to the second baseman on the first pitch of the at bat.
Despite Clemson's approach at the plate, Brady and Campbell kept the Tigers in the game long enough to scrach one run across in the 7th on an RBI single by Jason Stolz. Kudos to the Tigers (namely Spencer Kieboom) for getting the bunt down to move Richie Shaffer into scoring position for Stolz to drive him in. The Tigers needed to execute in that situation and they got it done. Matt Campbell held things down out of the pen until the 10th, being relieved by true freshman Daniel Gossett with 1 out and a runner on second. Gossett responded like a champ, striking out the next two batters and getting out of the inning. Gossett ran into trouble in the next inning, walking the first batter, then giving up a sac bunt and a single to leave runners at the corners with out. Gossett struck out fellow freshman Joey Pankake before giving up two singles to allow two runs, the second of which scored when pinch runner Patrick Harrington bulldozed Kieboom. I wasn't there to see if Kieboom was blocking the plate without the ball, as the stream I was using to watch the game failed around the 3rd inning, but I didn't hear any mention of anybody being out of line with the trucking at the plate. As far as I'm concerned it was just good clean baseball in the late innings of a rivalry game. If the lack of mention on the radio is any indication, Kieboom just has to hold onto the ball.
USC seemed determined to keep us in the game though. Two errors in the 11th had Clemson within one run and with runners on the corners. Jay Baum came on to pinch hit against Nolan Belcher, a move that I agree with, as John McGibbon had been playing like hot garbage as of late (1 hit in his first 17 official at bats). Baum hit a liner into the gap that centerfielder Evan Marzilli dove and snagged, sealing the win for USC. If that ball drops, Boulware comes all the way around to score and we're talking about a Clemson win. However, it didn't unfold that way and despite Richie Shaffer's best efforts (fighting a groin injury to go to 2-for-2 with three walks), the Tigers dropped the first game of the series, 3-2.
Box Score for Friday
Saturday : Sakerlina 9 , Clemson 6
USC took the series after winning the second game in Columbia on Saturday, 9-6. USC came out with perennial bullpen nuisance Matt Price, who was making his third start of the season. Price had been dominant this season, only giving up 1 hit in his previous two outings, but Clemson touched him up early in the second for two runs. A Phil Pohl walk and a Brad Felder double put runners on second and third with nobody out. It was at this point where Clemson revealed a problem that is going to bite them multiple times this season if they don't correct it. With a runner on third and less than two outs, you don't have to have a base hit. You don't need to drive a ball in the game or lift one out of the ball park. Choke up on the bat and lift a fly ball to the outfield (if the infield is playing in), or choke up even farther and poke a ground ball to one of the middle infielders (if the infield is conceding the run and playing back). The key is to swing early in the count here and get it done early, so as to avoid striking out. And if you're going to strike out, strike out swinging at three pitches, that way we can at least pretend you had an idea of what you were trying to accomplish. These runs should be gimme runs, that Clemson is going to HAVE to have if they want to have any measure of success this season. What happened instead was Garrett Boulware strikes out looking and Dominic Attanasio pops up to the infield (literally the worst thing you can do in that situation). It didn't bite Clemson this time, as Jason Stolz came through with a 2 RBI single, putting the Tigers up ahead 2-0. Some may argue that it's not a big deal because we got the base hit we needed, but the smart money says that Jason Stolz is not going to be our 2-out RBI guy as the season goes on, and he definitely isn't going to be able to get it done every time.
Clemson finishes that half inning up 2-0, but something about the prosperity that comes with jumping on top of a team early (something we hadn't done yet this year) became too much to bear. Dominic Leone, who I've been very high on this year, came out for the second, and two hits (including a leadoff homer), two walks, and two hit batters later, and Clemson is down 3-2. Clemson went three and out in the next inning, and following a three run homer, USC expanded the lead to 6-2. Clemson used two USC errors in the 5th to score 2 runs and get the score to 6-4. Runs were essentially traded the rest of the way, with the final margin being 9-6.
It should be noted that as much as I rag Jonathan Meyer, he came out to play Saturday. He gave up 4 hits and only 1 run in 3 innings of relief work. It wasn't a perfect effort by any stretch, but it was definitely a start and I hope he builds on it.
Box Score for Saturday
Sunday : Clemson 6 , Sakerlina 5
For some reason, we can't catch up a pop fly when Kevin Pohle is pitching. Against Maine, Brittle drops a pop fly, Kevin Pohle ends up giving up 3 unearned runs. Today, Boulware drops a pop fly to start the inning, and following another error, we're looking at 4 unearned runs for USC early. Pohle gave up three of his six hits in that one inning, in what was otherwise a solid effort. There's no excuse for finding that many bats in an inning, but you can't be the most confident guy in the world when your defense doesn't seem to want to play behind you. Pohle responded by shutting USC down the rest of the way in route to a five inning effort, giving up the four unearned runs on 6 hits, with 2 walks and 5 K's. Scott Firth relieved him and threw the final four innings, also looking solid (4 IP, 3 H, 1 R).
If Clemson has done one thing well so far this year, it has been responding to runs being put up against them. Today was no exception, as Clemson scored 1 run in the 2nd inning and 2 more in the 3rd in response to the 4 unearned runs. In the second with 1 out and the bases loaded, Brittle lifted a sac fly to left field, plating Joe Costigan (starting at DH, with Pohl catching and giving Kieboom a breather). A Shaffer homer and a RBI single by Costigan in the 3rd got the Tigers within 1 run at 4-3. A homer by true freshman Grayson Greiner gave USC a two run lead, and the Tigers came into the 8th inning down 5-3. USC brought in their new closer this season, sophomore Forrest Koumas, and he started the inning off by walking Shaffer on four pitches. Phil Pohl followed with a homer to tie the game at 5, which set the stage for Clemson's walkoff dramatics in the 9th.
John McGibbon started off the frame with a single up the middle and was bunted over to second by Brittle. Steve Wilkerson (who has really swung a good bat since coming back from injury) stepped up and got a single to left centerfield, with McGibbon coming all the way around and giving the Tigers a 6-5 win.
Wilkerson, Shaffer, and Pohl each had two hits, and McGibbon came out of a funk by going 3-for-5.
Box Score for Sunday
Recap: Sakerlina wins series 2-1
This really was a hard fought series between the two teams, and if the bulldozing of Kieboom by Harrington was any indication, this rivalry is right up there as one of the best in college baseball, and both teams wanted the wins. Coming into this series, I would have gladly taken 1 win, as I figured our inconsistency spelled doom for us this weekend. After watching the first game though, this series loss stings. USC gave us plenty of opportunities to take this series, and not just in the first game. Our pitching in general has just been too iffy to really get a read on this team. It seems like any given night, we can go out and have our bullpen throw 4 or 5 solid innings against a top ranked tam like USC, or we're just as likely to have our starting pitching get rocked and only go three innings. Our offense is just as likely to score one run in ten innings as they are to respond strongly after falling behind.
Some consistency HAS to show up. USC doesn't have the strongest lineup by any stretch, but their pitching is consistent enough to where they don't have to be. We don't have that luxury. Kevin Brady and Richie Shaffer can't do it all by themselves. Until some part of our team starts playing consistent baseball, expect this team to play a lot like our basketball team: Competitive in every game, but coming up just short. Kevin Brady is going to be there as a starter. Dom needs to get his act back together, and Pohle can't let an error or two get to him on the mound. Richie Shaffer isn't going to go 6-for-9 with 6 walks and two homers every weekend; we're going to have to get some production past the number 4 spot in our lineup, or we're in trouble.
With that said, Richie had an amazing series, getting on base and getting base hits when he was pitched to. All of those numbers he put up were put up while fighting a groin injury, and it was an admirable effort, all things considered. Teams are going to continue to pitch around him until somebody else behind him in the lineup proves they can get it done though.
Clemson continues their season with a Wednesday afternoon matchup against Holy Cross at DK Stadium.