A huge thank you to the Tiger basketball team. Their dismantling of Auburn Sunday night made what transpired in Doug Kingsmore this weekend a little easier to digest. To put it bluntly, #10 NCST came in and had their way with Monte Lee’s 2nd ranked Clemson Tiger team. If the goal for Elliott Avent’s Wolfpack team this weekend was to come in and make a statement, well message received. Loud and clear. NCST pitchers combined to limit the potent Clemson offense to a single run over the first two games of the weekend series, shutting the Tigers out right off the bat in the opener. Watching the first two games, it seemed at times like this Tiger team did not even belong on the same field as the Pack. Monte Lee went so far as to say the Tigers quit competing in Game 2. Clemson just did not play good baseball in the 1st two games. It is as simple as that. They did rebound with a much better showing in the 3rd game, but it wasn’t enough as NCST was still a little bit better. The Pack used a lot of defensive shifts in the infield throughout the weekend. Clemson has been seeing these all season of course, but it seemed like State used them much more frequently than we have been seeing other teams use them. They played the percentages, and it paid off, as the Tigers would hit balls into the teeth of those shifts all weekend long. As much sucess as the Pack had with them, I am guessing we will start to see them more frequently.
The Pack came in featuring a potent offense of their own. Every batter in the lineup came in batting over .300, led by CF Brett Kinnenman, who was sporting a .408 BA and had already hit 10 HRs. He would hit number 11 right out of the gate, sending a solo shot into the RF bleachers in the top of the 1st for a 1-0 lead. The score would remain that way, with Jacob Hennessey retiring 7 straight, until the 5th, when NCST would tack on 2 more runs. Hennessey walked the leadoff batter, then an infield single put runners at 1st and 2nd. A throwing error by Hennessey on a sac bunt attempt then loaded the bases and a sac fly would make it 2-0. Two more singles and it was 3-0 when the 5th ended. State would tack on one more in the 8th for a 4-0 final. The Tigers would muster only 6 hits on the night, all singles. They also made 5 errors, yet miraculously gave up no unearned runs. Hennessey would take the loss to drop to 1-1 on the season. He went 5.1 innings, giving up 6 H and 3 ER, striking out 3 and walking 3. He also had 2 of the errors. Grayson Byrd had 2 of the Tigers 6 hits, going 2-4 to lead Clemson.
The 2nd game of the series did not go any better, as the Tigers would go down by a score of 6-1. The Pack would get the leadoff runner on in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th ininngs, and all six would score. The Tigers did manage to break their scoring drought in the 2nd inning, thanks to an RBI single from Kyle Wylkie, which gave Clemson the early 1-0 lead. Wolfpack starter Brian Brown looked really good for the most part. He scattered just 5 H through 6 IP, allowing 1 ER, and striking out 8. He did walk 4 batters however, with 3 coming in the second inning, when he experienced some control issues. Those 3 walks led directly to the Tigers only run, but they were not able to turn it into anything more, leaving the bases loaded. Clemson did have their chances in this game though. They outhit the Pack 9-8, but stranded 10 runners. They just could never get that one hit when they needed it. Wylkie and Robert Jolly both had 2 hits each. Starter Brooks Crawford took the loss, dropping to 1-1. It was a shaky outing in which he once again failed to go 5 innings, exiting after 4.1 IP, allowing 3 ER on 4 H and 1 BB. He also struck out 3.
The Pack would win third game 5-4, in what was a much more competitive affair. This really was a fantastic baseball game, highlighted by some spectacular plays in the field by both teams. It was the type of game I was expecting to see throughout the series, and we finally got one in the finale. NCST would strike first, getting a solo shot from Will Wilson in the 1st for a 1-0 lead. It was the 1st of 2 he would hit on the day. The Tigers would get it right back however, as Logan Davidson led off the bottom of the 1st with a solo shot of his own, on the very 1st pitch he saw. Clemson would add 2 runs in the 2nd on an RBI double from Byrd and a Sac Fly from Wylkie, giving them a 3-1 lead early. It was short lived however, as NCST would get a 2R HR in the 3rd to tie it at 3. In the 4th, Clemson would take a 4-3 lead on a Wylkie RBI double that scored Byrd, who had reached on a throwing error. NCST would then tie it at 4 in the 6th, and in the 8th, Wilson would hit his second solo HR of the day. That gave the Pack a 5-4 lead, and proved to be the difference in the game. Starter Jake Higginbotham went 5 innings, allowing 4 ER, but on only 2 H. He uncharacteristically walked 3 however and struck out 5. Ryan Miller would take the loss, dropping to 2-1. He went 3 innings, giving up 3 H, and allowing only 1 ER. He struck out 3 and did not walk a batter, in what was another good performance from the dependable senior, despite taking the loss. The 2 teams combined for only 10 H in the game, finishing with 5 each.
The Tigers drop to 16-4(3-3), while the Fightin’ Laptops improve to 18-3(5-1). NCST looks like a team that very well could have a say in Atlantic this season. They can hit, they can pitch, and they can field, and they do all 3 very well. They played with a chip on their shoulder this weekend, looking like they had something to prove. I think it is safe to say they opened a few eyes with this sweep.
It isn’t about to get any easier, as Clemson now gets ready to go on the road. They travel to Conway for a sold out midweek game vs Coastal Carolina on Tuesday night, then head to Louisville for a weekend tilt with the Cards. It will be the Tigers first road series of the season.