Tigers take game at top-ranked UNC in extras

Baseball - Scott Firth

Photo by Mark Crammer

Baseball - Scott Firth

Clemson baseball pinned only the second loss of the season on top-ranked North Carolina, splitting an unconventional doubleheader Monday in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Resuming Sunday’s game two in the third inning, the Tar Heels (25-2, 9-2 ACC) built on a 2-0 lead to come out on top, 6-2, to clinch the series, but in the finale, extra-inning heroics from the Clemson bullpen and lineup led the way in a 5-4 Tigers’ victory.

Clemson pitcher Scott Firth had taken the loss in four of his last five appearances, but with the potential winning run on third base in the 10th, Clemson coach Jack Leggett stuck with him after a trip to the mound in game three – Firth didn’t disappoint.

On a 2-2 count with two out, Firth froze UNC second baseman Mike Zolk with a pitch on the outside corner for the strikeout to keep the Tigers alive.

After knocking on the door repeatedly in the late-going, Clemson broke through via small-ball in the 11th.

A walk and two infield hits loaded the bases and sophomore catcher Garrett Boulware delivered an RBI grounder for the go-ahead run.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t without its drama though – the first two batters reaching, and one on a controversial close call on an infield single. The Tigers’ senior co-captain Firth would deliver again though, reeling off three-straight outs to finish out the win.

Firth (3-4) pitched 4 2/3 of scoreless relief, allowing only three hits.

For five innings early on, it was smooth sailing for Tar Heels left-handed starter Hobbs Johnson, giving up a run on four hits, but after surrendering up a one-out single in the sixth, UNC coach Mike Fox brought a quick hook.

The Tigers took advantage of the opposing bullpen, putting up two runs on two hits and a walk, and a Chris McCue wild pitch gave Clemson its first lead of the series, 4-3.

North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran answered the rally in the seventh – a liner off Clemson pitcher Scott Firth’s glove scoring a runner from third base to tie it up.

In his first ACC start, freshman left-hander Matthew Crownover was largely effective, but two-out trouble got of the best of him in two of his 4 2/3 innings. The Ringgold, Ga. native gave up three earned runs on seven hits.

Game two of series – spread out over 20 hours thanks to a deluge Sunday night – was all UNC.

Pre-rain, Tar Heels starter Benton Moss struck out six of the nine batters he faced, and in the final 6 1/3 Monday, righty reliever Trent Thornton (6-0) shut the door – striking out seven with no earned runs or walks.

As close as a one-run game in the sixth inning, an unearned run proved to be the difference.

Like Thornton, Clemson freshman left-hander Zack Erwin went the distance in the Monday session, and it was smooth-going early, allowing one hit in his first three innings.

In the sixth, UNC baserunning got of the best of him with a two-base error on a pickoff throw to first base, and the Tar Heels shortstop Michael Russell later stealing home for the deciding score on another pickoff play.

North Carolina first baseman Cody Stubbs tacked on two more with a single in the next inning, and in the eighth, designated hitter Landon Lassiter capped a 4-for-5 effort driving in his second run of the contest.

Erwin gave up as many runs (4) in six innings as he did combined in his previous 10 appearances and 18 innings of relief.

On the hook for the game’s first two runs, Tigers freshman starter Clate Schmidt was handed his first career loss (2-1).

Second baseman Steve Wilkerson, Clemson’s second-leading hitter going into the weekend, didn’t start in either game with a lacerated finger sustained in warm-ups. But he did pinch-run in the 11th.

The Tigers return to action at home against Gardner-Webb on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

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