After splitting midweek matchups with Furman and Presbyterian, the Tigers looked to improve their ACC record against conference foe North Carolina this weekend at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The Tigers won the first two strong games in exciting fashion and got the series win, but the Tar Heels proved to be too much on Sunday. With the two wins, Clemson improves to 16-15 on the year and 7-8 in conference play. UNC leaves Clemson with a matching 7-8 ACC record and is 18-13 for the season.
In the first game, strong pitching from lefty Matthew Crownover (5-1) and early-inning offense led to a 5-2 Tiger victory. Crownover got his fifth win of the year, allowing only two unearned runs and two walks compared to eight strikeouts in 7.0 innings pitched. Taylor Vetzel came in and pitched a scoreless two innings to get his first save in a Clemson uniform.
"Last week [against Wake Forest], I pitched one heck of a game for five and two-thirds [innings], and then I just lost it," Crownover said. "I usually don't lose my focus like that and I just lost my focus, but it was good to get back on the mound. I was really looking forward, anxious more than anything, to get back on the mound and throw well. I felt that I threw the ball pretty well. It was a good lineup, and they had a good plan of attack on my fastball, and me and [Chris] Okey had to adjust accordingly the second time through, so give Okey a lot of credit, and he was with me all night."
The Tigers scored two first-inning runs on back-to-back RBI doubles from Reed Rohlman, scoring Tyler Krieger, and Chris Okey, scoring Rohlman. The offense continued in the third inning, when a throwing error scored Steven Duggar and allowed Chase Pinder to come up and slice a two-run double down the left field line. The Tar Heels got a minor rally going in the seventh inning, scoring two runs after an error from third baseman Weston Wilson, but they would get no more once Vetzel came in to pitch.
The second game was full of fireworks, as the Tigers walked off in a 5-4 extra-inning victory thanks to a rather costly error by the Tar Heels, clinching the series win. Going into the ninth inning, the game was tied 2-2, and the only Tiger offense had come in the fourth inning, when Krieger had an RBI double and would later come around to score himself. No runs were scored in the ninth or tenth innings.
In the 11th inning, the Tar Heels scored two runs on one hit and an error, and it seemed the game was out of reach for the Tigers. However, after Duggar drew a 10-pitch walk, Krieger followed with a 9-pitch walk and Rohlman was also walked to load the bases with one out, a wild pitch was thrown and Duggar scored to cut North Carolina's lead in half. The Tar Heels then intentionally walked Okey to reload the bases, and Eli White, batting in the sixth spot in the lineup due to an injured Pinder, came up to bat. White grounded to the shortstop, and Krieger scored the tying run on the throw to first. It should have been tied with two outs, but the first baseman dropped the throw, and, thanks to heads-up baserunning from Rohlman, the Tigers scored the winning run on the missed throw.
"We were talking in the outfield when they were changing pitchers, we were confident that we were going to come back in the bottom half of the [eleventh] inning and get this win," Rohlman said. "We've been in a lot of situations this season, and we've built innings, and we came close but we couldn't seal the deal, and tonight was huge for us, to finally close the envelope and get the game on our side."
Also of note in the second game was starter Zack Erwin's 9.0 inning performance. He allowed nine hits and two runs while walking none and striking out a season-high 11 batters.
"That was awesome," Erwin said of the late-inning fireworks. "That was so much fun. We really needed that game, and to come back in the eleventh inning after they scored two runs in the top and then we came in and got three, it was awesome."
The Tigers looked to carry the momentum from the exciting win on Saturday into Sunday and get the sweep, but their luck ran out, despite taking a 4-0 lead in the second, as the Tar Heels took the final game 8-7.
Clemson came out to play in the first inning, as walks to Duggar and Rohlman set up a three-run homer from Okey. The longball was Okey's fifth of the year and he leads the team in that category. The Tigers extended their lead in the second with a RBI double from Tyler Slaton, but the Tar Heels started chipping away at the lead in the third inning. North Carolina scored three runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and another in the fifth, taking the lead that they would not give up. They added three more runs in the seventh on a three-run homer from rightfielder Tyler Ramirez, bringing their lead to 8-4; Ramirez had five RBIs on the day.
The Tigers responded in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two on a White double, and they added one more in the eighth on a wild pitch to cut UNC's lead to one. Clemson could have scored more in the eighth, but the Tar Heels pitched their way out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam to keep their lead. The Tigers then got two men on with one out in the ninth, but back-to-back strikeouts from Rohlman and Okey ended the game.
"We thought we were going to win that game the whole time," White said. "We thought we battled and we put some good at-bats together, but it just didn't work out in the end. It would've been great. Any time you have a chance to sweep a team like UNC, that's a big deal. It stinks that we didn't come up with it, but we've got a big game on Tuesday that we've got to prepare for."
UNC starter Benton Moss (5-0) earned the win and remained undefeated for the season, despite allowing eight hits and six runs in 6.0 innings pitched. Clemson starter Brody Koerner (3-4) got the loss, even though he walked no batters and struck out six in 5.0 innings pitched.
The Tigers will continue their homestand on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Georgia. The game will be shown on ESPN3 and will be Military Appreciation Day at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.