Clemson was riding a wave of weekend momentum, having taken 2 of 3 from Miami two weeks ago, and sweeping Duke last week. As mentioned in the preview, a series win was not improbable, and you had to like the Tigers chances given how they usually play NC State. With that said, NC State was the better team; combine that with a lack of execution on Clemson's part, and the Tigers leave with only a win in the opening game, dropping the series 2-1.
Because NC State was better on paper, it's not completely discouraging to see that Clemson only won one game. NC State is a solid, SOLID ball club. The problem comes when, in a situation that has not been too uncommon, the Tigers get a chance to make a push to get back into or win the game, and come up short. I won't dwell on it much here in the opening because it's nothing I haven't said before, but it has to be better if this team has any hope of going anywhere.
Game summaries after the jump......
Friday: Clemson 7, NC State 6 (12 innings)
Thomas Brittle continued the tear he's been on as of late by going 4-for-7, Scott Firth threw 6.1 innings of relief, only allowing 1 hit after the 7th, and Clemson walked off with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Friday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. I was glad to see this team stay focused and get the win in extras after there was a BLOWN call in the 6th when Richie was called out at the plate. I'll get to the details of that later in this game's recap, but regardless, it would have been easy to fold up and take the "umps are against us" attitude, and this team didn't do that. I will commend them for that.
Clemson got to work early, putting up 2 runs in the first inning off of Wolfpack starter Ethan Ogburn. Steve Wilkerson and Brittle led off with singles, and Richie followed with another single to plate Wilkerson. Phil Pohl followed by grounding into a double play, but Brittle scored from third to make it 2-0. Jay Baum walked to lead off the second inning, and Jason Stolz hit a 2 out double to score him and make it a 3-0 game. Clemson didn't stop there, however, and stretched their lead to 4-0 in the third on a double by Richie Shaffer that scored Brittle for the second time.
Kevin Brady, despite walking three, stayed out of trouble and did not allow a hit until the 4th inning. He kept NC State scoreless until the 6th inning, when the Wolfpack got to him for 3 runs. Brady allowed a single, a walk, and hit a batter to load the bases with nobody out. Danny Canela followed with a double to score two, and Tarran Senay hit a sac fly to make the score 4-3. After getting an out on a comebacker, Brady was relieved by Firth, who struck out the first batter he faced to end the inning.
Clemson responded with one run in the bottom half of the inning, but that wasn't the biggest story of the inning. That came with the final play when, with runners on first and second and two outs, Phil Pohl hit a double down the left field line. Brittle, the lead runner, came around to score easily, and Shaffer was set to follow. The relay came in, and Shaffer, in the eyes of every fan in the stadium (and according to a few pictures, from what I hear), slid under the tag and scored what would have been the second run of the inning (and potentially the run that would have helped to end the game in regulation). Instead, Shaffer was called out and the inning was over, with the score standing at 5-3.
NC State put 3 more runs up in the 7th to take a 6-5 lead. The runs were allowed in true "Clemson bullpen" fashion; leadoff man gets hit by a pitch, the next guy walks, and then when the next guy bunts, we throw it into right field. That plated one run and put runners on the corners with still nobody out. Two stolen bases and two sac flies later, and Clemson found themselves down 6-5.
Clemson scratched across the tying run in the bottom of the 8th inning, and it started when Spencer Kieboom drew a walk. Tyler Slaton entered as a pinch runner and stole second before advancing to third on a Stolz groundout. Wilkerson walked, and Brittle chopped a ball in the infield that forced Wilkerson out at second. Brittle beat the return throw to first, and Slaton scored to tie the game. Both teams escaped jams, both leaving the bases loaded in the 10th inning, but Clemson finally pushed across the final run in the 12th inning. Slaton led off with a walk and stole second. Stolz struck out and Wilkerson walked, which brought Brittle to the plate with 1 out and a chance to win the game. His bloop single scored Slaton on yet another close play at home, and the Tigers squeaked out a 7-6 win.
Again, I commend the team for not folding up after that bad call in the 6th. It was in the middle of the game, but it could have spelled doom towards the later innings, and we didn't let that happen. With that compliment said, can we PLEASE bunt the ball when the situation calls for it? In the 10th inning, we got the first two runners on, and Steve Wilkerson coming up to the plate. I understand its Steve Wilkerson, one of the hottest hitters in our lineup, but we're not looking for him to hit a ball in the gap to score multiple runs. We've got Thomas Brittle, who is quite possibly THE hottest hitter in our lineup, in the on deck circle, and we need one run. Bunt the ball, move the runners, and get Brittle to the plate with runners in scoring position. I also understand that Brittle popped up and wouldn't have gotten the job done if the runners were on second and third, but it's the principle of the thing. What does Jack have against bunting? As important of a series as this is, we should be moving runners and trying to push across that last run, especially in a nailbiter in the 10th. It may not be the most popular opinion out there, but I'm sick of seeing guys pop up or strike out in positions where they could be bunting and doing something productive with their at bats.
Saturday: NC State 3, Clemson 1
Carlos Rodon threw 8 innings of three hit ball for NC State, and Clemson gave up the final three runs of the game to lose 3-1.
The first 5 innings of the game were extremely uneventful, as there were only 5 hits between the two teams, with the Tigers only claiming one. Clemson broke through in the 6th, however, when Richie scored from first on an error in right field following a double by Phil Pohl.
Clemson's lead was short lived though, as NC State tacked on two runs in the 7th and 1 more in the 8th. Kudos to NC State in the 7th for driving in their runs with 2 outs on a double by Trea Turner. Leone faced some tough luck in the inning on a ground ball that hit the lip at third base, resulting in a single, allowing Turner to get to the plate to hit his double. If that ball hits in a different spot, Leone probably gets out of the inning and we could be talking about a completely different game.
Clemson had a chance to win the game in the 9th couldn't get it done. Baum and Joe Costigan led off the inning with singles, putting runners on the corners. Slaton pinch ran for Costigan and stole yet another base to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Jon McGibbon, whom I have no use for at this point in the season, gets up there and strikes out swinging, which is literally the ONLY thing you can't do in that spot. After the strikeout, NC State goes to the bullpen to play matchups, putting in a righty to face Garrett Boulware. Clemson counters by putting in Brad Felder, a lefty, to pinch hit. Did I mention I have no use for Felder either? A graduate student hitting .200 is pathetic. I wasn't the best player by any stretch, but I could get my tail off the couch and get a hit once every five at bats. Anyway, Felder goes up there, looks at three fastballs and comes back to the dugout, something ANYBODY at ANY age could do. You're a pinch hitter, get up there and swing the bat. It's that simple. Jason Stolz gets up there with now all of the pressure squarely on him, and he pops out to the second baseman to end the game.
It floors me that we couldn't get those two runs across in the ninth. Dom was the tough luck loser in this one, pitching a good game and only allowing the two out RBI's, and in those situations you just have to give credit to the hitters for getting it done. Patrick Andrews relieved Leone and pitched flawlessly the rest of the way. This game just came down to us not being able to execute when we needed to. When you come on as a pinch hitter or when you come up with runners in scoring position like that, you have one job to do. It's not to get a hit, or drive a ball in the gap. It's to push that guy across, no matter what you have to do. Whether it's hit a ground ball to one of the middle infielders or lift a fly ball to the outfielders, it's your only job, and you HAVE to do it. I've stated before it was going to be the difference in winning and losing later on, and that's exactly what it was on Saturday.
Sunday: NC State 6, Clemson 3
NC State used three hits, two walks, and an error in the 5th inning on Sunday to turn a 2-2 game into their own 6-2 advantage that they would never relinquish, winning by a score of 6-3 to take the final two games of the weekend, and the series.
The Wolfpack did all of their damage to Kevin Pohle (4-2), scoring 6 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks in 4.1 innings. Pohle got rocked, plain and simple. NC State took a 2-0 lead after the first two innings, one on a perfectly executed safety squeeze in the first, but the Tigers battled back to score one run in both the third and the fourth. The first Tiger run came on a RBI triple by Thomas Brittle, who has been ripping the cover off of the ball as of late, and the second run came when Jay Baum scored on a two out single by Tyler Slaton.
With the score 6-2, the Tigers got runners on second and third with one out, but could only plate one run. With Shaffer and Wilkerson on second and third respectively, Phil Pohl hit a groundball to the shortstop, plating Wilkerson and bringing up a 6-3 margin. Clemson went quietly the rest of the game to make that the final.
Much like the Duke series, we needed this one. I'm glad to get one, because NC State IS the better team, and these were good games, but it's still disappointing to see us not execute on Saturday when we needed to. Executing in that spot could have led to a Tiger win, which would have given us another credible series win to go along with the two we took from Miami earlier. I think the team is focused and does want to win, but there has to be more of an emphasis on execution and doing your job, especially when your job doesn't necessarily require you ripping a ball into the gap for a bases clearing double. Losing this series means, at least to me, that we need to sweep Maryland and take 2 from Georgia Tech. I can see a sweep of Wake Forest, but Florida State could get ugly VERY quickly if we don't play like we're capable of. Sweeps against Maryland, Tech, and Wake Forest, even if we get swept by FSU, puts us at 18-12, which is more than acceptable considering our start. It may not be likely, but if this team really is focused on winning like they say they are, then it could happen, and they would be doing themselves a favor. I'm not even going to start looking at midweek games as wins or losses because there's no telling what Clemson team is going to show up for those.
The Tigers get Charleston Southern at home on Tuesday, before heading up to College Park to play Maryland. Again, that series needs to be a sweep. I'll provide a more in-depth look at the rest of the ACC hopefully around Tuesday, but Clemson needs to start solidifying a spot in the ACC tournament, first and foremost, and that MUST begin with a sweep at Maryland. You don't want to start asking for two or three wins against a team that's ranked #1 in the country (FSU).