Wake Forest came to town this weekend, as the Tigers and Demon Deacons faced off at Doug Kingsmore Stadium to close out the regular season. Sitting at 38th in RPI and having not won an ACC series since the first weekend of April against Louisville, Clemson was in dire need of a series win to ensure themselves of at least a .500 finish in conference play and to solidify their chances of a spot in the postseason.
Pitching has become an issue for the young team. Injuries to Carter Raffield and Spencer Strider prior to the season killed the depth and as the young arms have started to tire, that lack of depth has really started to show.
Starting pitchers have struggled to make it through five innings and that's put a major strain on the bullpen. The relievers have looked even more gassed at times than the starters, with the exception of Carson Spiers, and that's led to the staff having to saddle Spiers with a heavy workload of late. Much heavier than you'd typically want to put on your closer.
The coaching staff has had to turn to the same three or four relievers night in and night out for most of the season, so it's not that surprising that they began to fall off down the stretch. Once the strength of this team, the bullpen has now become a liability. Owen Griffith, Sam Weatherly, and Holt Jones have all started to falter in recent weeks after fantastic first halves of the season, and unfortunately there just aren’t any other dependable options. Having to move Mat Clark into the rotation has really started to have a negative impact on the bullpen as the season has worn on.
Game 1- Clemson 4 Wake 3
Clark has been the most consistent starter down the stretch. The staff found a way to rest him two out of the last four weekends and that paid off in a big way Thursday night as the young lefty had his best outing of late, picking up his 8th win of the season.
Clark had his breaking ball working and kept Wake Forest hitters off balance through 6.2 innings, striking out 9 and allowing just 4 hits. He walked 4 and all 3 runs he gave up were unearned.
Grayson Byrd put the Tigers on the board in the 1st inning with a solo homerun, his 13th of the season and his 8th in the last 11 games. Bryar Hawkins added a solo shot of his own in the 2nd, his 7th of the year, giving Clemson a 2-0 lead. They added 2 more in the 5th on a Logan Davidson sac fly and a perfectly executed safety squeeze by Kyle Wilkie to make it 4-0.
A Justin Hawkins fielding error led to an unearned run for Wake in the 6th, and then fielding errors by Sam Hall and Michael Green in the 7th led to 2 more unearned runs as the Deacs cut the lead to one, 4-3.
After Owen Griffith and Sam Weatherly were both ineffective in relief, Carson Spiers was brought on in the 7th to finish it off as he notched his 11th save of the season.
Game 2- Clemson 10 Wake 9
With Davis Sharpe experiencing some shoulder soreness and looking a little more fatigued with each passing week, the coaching staff decided to go with veteran left hander Jacob Hennessy in game two, giving Sharpe an extra day of rest.
The hope was Hennessy could have the same kind of success with his offspeed stuff and breaking balls as Clark did, and that's exactly what happened. The junior matched a career best going 7.1 innings, improving to 4-2 and looking very much like the Hennessy from the first half of last season as the team's Friday night starter.
Wake had four hits in the 1st inning but could only push across 1 run, as Hennessy worked out of a bases loaded jam. He then settled in, surrendering just 2 more hits over the next 6.1 innings. He struck out 7, walked just one batter, and allowed just 2 runs in his most impressive ACC start of the season.
The Tigers started the 2nd with 7 straight base hits, as Clemson plated 5 runs, giving them a 5-1 lead. Grayson Byrd added his second long ball of the series in the 4th, a 2 run shot, and Kyle Wilkie also drove in a run to extend the lead to 8-1.
Wake pushed across 3 in the 8th after Travis Marr and Owen Griffith both proved ineffective once again in relief. A seven run lead was cut to three before the Tigers scored 3 in the bottom half to make it 10-4.
Wake then quickly loaded the bases off of Griffith with no out to start the 9th, forcing the coaches to once again turn to Carson Spiers. After allowing a run scoring single that made it 10-5, he was able to retire the next two hitters. Evan Lanzilli then stepped to the plate and with one swing of the bat made it just a one run game, as he lauched a grand slam to left center for his 16th HR of the year. Bobby Seymour then hit a long fly to center that looked and sounded like the game tying homerun. However, it would come up just short as Bryce Teodosio caught it at the wall to end it.
Game 3- Wake 14 Clemson 5
Saturday was Senior Day at Doug Kingsmore, as all the graduates were honored prior to the game.
After Logan Davidson's 2 run shot gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the 1st, there was very little else that went right for the Clemson in this one. Wake got to starter Davis Sharpe for 4 runs in the 3rd and then chased the freshman RHP after the first 3 batters in the sixth reached safely.
Being that it was Senior Day, the first guy out of the pen was Brooks Crawford. To say Crawford has struggled of late would be putting it mildly, and on the surface, bringing him in down 4-2 in the 6th seemed pretty risky, but keep in mind Crawford is a senior, and it was Senior Day.
Knowing the series was already won, and after what Hennessy did on Friday, it isn’t so hard to understand why Monte would run him out there in that spot. If Crawford had come on and pitched lights out, Monte is being praised. Instead, he faced just 2 batters, allowing both to reach. The first seven pitches he threw were balls. Not quite the way Crawford envisioned his career in DKS coming to an end.
Holt Jones would then come on and go the next 1.3 innings. Jones was not great by any means, but he looked better than he had in his last few appearances. He allowed a run on three hits but it was nice to see him throwing more strikes. He issued just one walk and struck out 4, but did have 3 wild pitches.
The Deacs added 3 more runs off of Keyshawn Askew and 1 each off of Luke Sommerfield and Andrew Coker. Grayson Byrd hit his 3rd long ball of the series and 15th of the season, to continue his torrid pace (11 HR in last 14 games). Chad Fairey also added a 2 run shot, his 3rd of the season.
Davis Sharpe had one of his worst outings of the season. He allowed 7 runs, all earned, on 7 hits, and he walked 4, while striking out 3. Sharpe drops to 6-4 on the season, but there was one bright spot, as for the first time in weeks, he did not hit a batter.
Sharpe is going to be a very good pitcher for this program. He's shown what he's capable of. Like many freshman hurlers, he looks as if he's hit that "freshman wall," and that's not uncommon.
Wake finishes the regular season at 30-25 and 14-16 in ACC play.
Clemson finishes the regular season 33-23 overall and 15-15 in the ACC. They came into the weekend #38 in RPI, and after winning 2 of 3 this weekend, still sit at #38. They had moved up to #32 after Fridays win, but the loss in the finale combined with some other results pushed them right back down to where they were to start the series. Although there are certainly no guarantees, as long as they stay in the Top 40, they should be fine.
Clemson now gets set to play in the ACC Tournament next week in Durham Bulls Park, in Durham, NC. The Tigers will be the 8 seed and will play in Pool A with the 1 seed Louisville and the 12 seed Boston College.
The Tigers will play Boston College at 11am Tuesday, and Louisville at 11am on Thursday.
Clemson swept BC on the road earlier this season and took two out of three from Louisville at home in April.