Monte Lee's Tigers came into the weekend reeling, having lost 4 straight, including a 20 inning affair Tuesday night in Athens. With Duke in town for a three game set, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to right the ship and get things back on track, but the Blue Devils were having none of it.
Duke came into the weekend playing good baseball, having won 7 of their last 8. They aren’t going to “out talent” many teams, but their pitchers throw strikes, don’t walk a lot of guys, and they play solid, fundamental baseball. They do not make a lot of mistakes, and over the course of this weekend series, made their opponent pay dearly for its mistakes.
The Tigers have now lost seven straight, the longest losing streak for the program since 2008, and they’re now staring down the barrel of two midweek games. Brooks Crawford and Jacob Hennessy, the two guys who have been used in midweek roles of late, both started over the weekend. The Tigers are likely to have to do what they’ve been doing most of the season, rely on freshman arms to snap this skid.
All is not lost however, and the sky is not falling. The way the Tigers had been playing over the first half made it easy to forget this was a team that was picked to finish middle of the pack in the Atlantic. A team that lost two starting pitchers before the season ever started. A team in which underclassmen make up around 70% of the roster, and a team that has featured two true freshman and a sophomore moved out of the bullpen in its starting rotation most of the season. Instead of being surprised at inconsistency, maybe it should have been expected.
Game 1- Duke 9 Clemson 8
The Tigers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after three, only to see Duke get to Davis Sharpe for 4 runs in the 4th to take a 4-3 lead. Clemson responded by pushing three runs across in the bottom half of the inning to retake the lead 6-4, but it would be short-lived.
The Blue Devils got to reliever Sam Weatherly for 3 runs in the 7th to take a 7-6 lead. Weatherly allowed 2 hits and walked 2 in just an inning of work, while also striking out 2. The Tigers would again retake the lead in the bottom half of the inning when Sam Hall stole home and Kyle Wilkie knocked in a run on a fielders choice.
Owen Griffith, who had come on to get the final out in the seventh on a strikeout, breezed through the 8th, striking out the side. After getting a fly ball out to start the 9th, a one out walk would be his undoing. After getting a ground ball for out number two, he surrendered a line drive single down the RF line to tie it up. Carson Spiers was brought in and quickly gave up a double to left center that scored what would be the games deciding run. Coming in, Clemson had been 23-0 when leading after 7 innings.
For the second consecutive start, Davis Sharpe did not have his best stuff, and had that one bad inning. Sharpe allowed 7 hits and 2 walks in 5.2 IP, giving up the 4 earned runs in the 4th. It was a cold, damp night. Hopefully that impacted his performance and we're not starting to see signs of freshman fatigue.
Game 2- Duke 5 Clemson 3
Duke killed the Tigers with 2 out runs in this one, with all 5 of their runs coming with 2 outs. The Blue Devils scored 2 runs (unearned) in the 5th with two outs, then 3 more in the sixth with two outs.
With Mat Clark scratched from his start for precautionary reasons, Brooks Crawford stepped in to start and gave the Tigers the quality start they needed. The senior went 5 innings, allowing 5 hits, no walks, and struck out 5. He allowed 4 runs, but just 2 were earned with the other 2 coming after a costly error in the 5th.
After a sac fly plated a run in the first, the offense just could not get anything going, twice grounding into inning ending double plays with two men on. The Tigers didn’t score another run until Sam Hall’s two out 2 run homerun in the 9th.
Game 3- Duke 9 Clemson 8
After Duke led of the game with a solo shot off of Jacob Hennessy, the Tigers were able to tie it up in the bottom half of the inning on an RBI single by Kyle Wilkie. The Devils would come right back in the 2nd with 3 more runs, all with two outs, including a 2 run shot from Joey Loperfido.
Duke would add one more in the 3rd on a costly throwing error by James Parker after the Tigers had a Duke base runner dead to rights in a run down, and then added 3 more in the 5th for an 8-2 lead.
Clemson would come right back with six runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning to tie it up. Grayson Byrd hit a solo shot, Davis Sharpe was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and Justin Hawkins launched a grand slam into the LF stands for just his second hit of the season.
Just like Friday night though, the 9th inning would not be kind to Clemson. Carson Spiers grooved a pitch right over the plate and Matt Mervis hit a no doubter out to right center to give Duke the 9-8 lead. The Tigers didn’t go quietly however, as Wilkie led off the ninth with a shot to left that Duke LF Kyle Gallagher went up and over the wall to bring back in and rob Wilkie of a game tying homerun. Then with 2 out and 1 on, Davis Sharpe hit one deep to left center that just missed going out by a few inches, and was caught at the top of the wall to end it.
Duke improves to 24-16 (11-10) on the season, while Clemson falls to 25-15 (11-10). The Tigers fall all the way down to 34th in RPI and will need to get this thing turned around quick to ensure themselves of a spot in the postseason.
The Tigers next face Winthrop Tuesday night at 6pm at DKS, then host Tennessee Tech on Wednesday night at 6pm. Tickets are $2 for each game.