CLEMSON – As the innings began to mount up on Opening Day at Doug Kingsmore Stadium the scorekeeper remained mostly untroubled, with Clemson and William & Mary both holding goose eggs through seven and a half frames.
And as the first hint of evening began to creep over Doug Kingsmore Stadium, 5,947 baseball fans began to wonder whether it would be the hosts or visitors who could find a way to scratch out a run – and a scratch out a win.
Enter Shane Kennedy.
The junior designated hitter had struck out once and gone quietly in two other at bats, but on the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth he cranked a fastball over the left field wall, scoring two and scoring a 2-0 victory for the Tigers.
It was his first career home run and first game wearing Clemson colors.
“An Opening Day home run is awesome, and the fact that it was my first Clemson game made it special,” said Kennedy, a former JUCO All-American at Santa Fe College. “I knew they expected a lot out of me when I came here and I struggled in my first three bats.”
The game ended with each team rapping out six hits, and Kennedy said knocking one out was not on his mind when he stepped to the plate against Tribe hurler Brett Koehler.
“Honestly, we just needed base runners,” Kennedy said. “But he threw a fastball and it felt awesome off the bat.”
William & Mary made a bit of noise in the top of the ninth with two hits, but Matt Campbell came on to record two outs, ending the threat and getting the save.
Clay Bates got the win, allowing two hits in 1.1 innings work but it was starting pitcher Daniel Gossett who made the biggest impact.
The sophomore righthander went 6.2 innings, allowing just four hits with six strikeouts and one walk.
“It feels good to get that first one out of the way,” Gossett said. “You get the start and you want to have a good one and that gives me confidence.”
He wasn’t truly confident, however, until he saw Kennedy’s homer.
“It was huge to see it go out,” Gossett said.
Tiger skipper Jack Leggett had few complaints when it was over. He knew coming into the season the team was built around small ball but also knew he had playmakers at the plate and on the hill.
Clemson was limited to just six hits – as was the Tribe – but the knock that also sent second baseman Steve Wilkerson home in the eighth was the one that mattered.
“It’s a good win for us and it was good to get it behind us,” Leggett said. “We were kind of feeling our way the whole ballgame, but Shane flattened out his swing a little on that last at bat and got us one.”
Leggett said Gossett could have easily gone the distance but the starter had already thrown 76 pitches, 61 for strikes.
“This early (in the season) we just thought it was time to get him out,” Leggett said. “I was thinking if we got five good innings from him that would be great. Right now we’re looking at giving guy 65 to 75 pitches.”
Freshman rightfielder Steven Duggar had three hits in his collegiate debut, while Kennedy, Wilkerson and catcher Garrett Boulware had one hit each.
Kennedy, of course, batted in the only runs of the game.
Koehler got the loss despite a solid effort, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out three.
Third baseman Michael Katz had three hits for the Tribe and second baseman Ryan Lindemuth added two.
The teams square off again Saturday at Kingsmore with a 2 p.m. start.