Looking to carry the momentum from a 19-2 win over Western Carolina into the weekend, the Clemson baseball team faced the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the first three games of a 10-game homestand. However, the Demon Deacons proved to be a little too much for the Tigers to handle, as Clemson dropped the first two games but managed a win in the third. With the series, Clemson brought their season record to 13-13 overall and 5-7 in the ACC, while Wake improved to 19-11 overall and 6-6 in conference play.
Game one was a pitcher's duel until the sixth inning, as the Tigers were up 1-0 until then. The Tiger run came from yet another RBI from sophomore Chris Okey to score junior Tyler Krieger. The RBI was Okey's 22 of the year; he leads the team in this category.
Wake Forest took the lead for good in the sixth inning, loading the bases and scoring three two-out runs. The latter two of those runs were walked in by Tiger starter Matthew Crownover (4-1), who suffered his first loss of the season.
"Lack of concentration. That can't happen," Crownover said. "I take full responsibility for it and got to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Graduate student Clay Bates was brought in to relieve Crownover, marking Bates' first appearance of the year. However, his debut was spoiled as the Demon Deacons added four more runs in the seventh inning and one more in the ninth. The Tiger defense, or lack thereof, played a major role in Wake's seventh inning rally, as they committed three errors in one inning. Clemson could only muster one run in response, courtesy of an RBI from freshman Chase Pinder, bringing the final score to 8-2.
The Tigers did not fare much better in game two, falling by a score of 7-3. Two of Clemson's runs came from home runs, one from senior Tyler Slaton off of the first Wake pitch of the game, and one from junior Steven Duggar in the eighth. The long balls were both players' first of the season. Slaton had a solid performance in his first game back at leadoff in a while, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs. It was a welcome sight to see Slaton producing at the plate regardless of the outcome of the game.
"Getting that first run is always nice, getting a lead is always a positive," Slaton said. "I've just been trying to work on some minor things with the coaches in the cages, and it's been transitioning a little bit better to my play on the field, so it's a positive."
Wake Forest's starter, Will Craig (1-1), who started at first base on Friday night, earned the win by allowing only four hits, one run and one walk with five strikeouts in 6.0 innings pitched. Craig also happens to be Wake's best hitter, and he went 3-for-5 at the plate with a home run, his second long ball of the series. Clemson's starter, junior Brody Koerner (3-3) suffered the loss.
Errors once again proved costly for the Tigers on Saturday, as a throwing error from Pinder to junior first baseman Andrew Cox allowed Wake to start another four-run rally in the third.
The Tigers looked like a different team in the third game from both a hitting and pitching standpoint, completing a 6-2 victory on Sunday. Junior starting pitcher Zack Erwin (2-3) pitched perhaps his best game of the season, earning the win by allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits and walking only one batter while striking out seven in 8.0 innings pitched.
Offensively, all six RBIs came from the bats of sophomore Weston Wilson, junior Andrew Cox and sophomore Eli White, the bottom three batters in the lineup. Cox hit a two-out RBI single in the second inning, scoring Pinder for the first run of the game. Cox also had a sac fly in the fourth inning, and the Tigers added another in the same inning on a RBI single from sophomore Weston Wilson that scored Okey. The real fireworks, though, came when White hit his first career long ball, a three run homer to left-center, in the sixth inning.
"It felt great," White said. "I was just looking for a good pitch to hit, and luckily I got one that I could handle. It's always good whenever you can help the team out and get some RBIs. It felt different coming out today, so we've just got to keep this thing rolling."
The other highlight of Sunday's game was Krieger getting the start at second base. It was first time that Krieger, usually a shortstop, had played out in the field since injuring his shoulder last April; he later had to have surgery on it. This season, he had been contributing offensively in a major way at designated hitter and has the highest batting average on the team (.382 after Sunday's game).
"I've been waiting for that moment for a long time, to just jog out there with my teammates in the top of the first, and it was fun day out on the field, especially after getting a win," Krieger said. "I'm just trying to give us a little spark, trying to switch things up, and it worked out, so hopefully I can stay healthy and continue to keep getting better."
"There's a lot of games left," Krieger said. "Today's win doesn't mean as much as yesterday's loss. You can't take games for more than what they are. You have to continue to come out come out and try to get better every single day. Treat every single day like it's game seven of the World Series, every single game like it's game seven of the World Series and just continue to get better. That's the key: continue to get better."
The Tigers continue their homestand on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against the Furman Paladins.