CLEMSON - Clemson's storybook Opening Day ending was there for the taking.
Take an early lead, lose it in an inning that got away – in this case, the sixth, but up against it late, the opportunity was there.
A 2-1 count and two out in the ninth, senior pinch-hitter Mike Dunster used almost all of the extra 10-feet allotted by field renovations to power his first career homer to right, tying it up 5-5.
"(Coach Jack) Leggett told me just to have the mentality of a leadoff hitter," Dunster said. "Anyway to get on, whether a bunt basehit or line-drive. I got one inside and I was lucky enough to get a bat on it."
EMU 6, Clemson 5
Eastern Michigan right-hander Kristian Calibuso's night continued to spiral, loading the bases for Tigers designated hitter Chris Okey. The highly-rated first-year freshman had two hits in first four at-bats, but ahead in the count 3-1, he swung a likely ball-four into Eagles right fielder Sam Ott's glove.
EMU took the swing in momentum from there. A leadoff two-base throwing error by Clemson shortstop Tyler Krieger set them up, and a tough grounder rolled past diving Tigers third baseman Jay Baum to bring across the gamewinner in the 6-5 decision.
Clemson’s hall-of-fame coach says their troubles started when they let Eastern Michigan believe midway through.
"We let the game slide away from us," Leggett said, as his team dropped its second opener in three years. "We actually played pretty good. Pretty good defense and pitched very well except for one inning. We just didn't get it done in the sixth inning and allowed them to get some confidence and take the lead.
"We did a nice job battling back. Dunster got a great hit for us. We built a couple innings and just didn't finish things off."
Clemson ace right-hander Daniel Gossett got the start for a second consecutive Opening Day - and he was dealing early.
The junior Byrnes product struck out four batters in his first three innings, surrendering a run on one hit.
His lineup gave him an early lead, as Okey lined a two-RBI double to left field. It was the first recorded two-run hit by a Clemson freshman in his first at-bat.
Sophomore right fielder Steven Duggar added an RBI single to right in the third, and junior catcher and T.L. Hanna alum Garrett Boulware tacked on another run for a 4-1 lead after five frames.
Once Gossett got the hook, Clemson's troubles began.
In the fateful sixth inning, junior righty Kevin Pohle made his first appearance since the 2012 ACC Tournament, after redshirting last season with a shoulder injury. It didn't go well.
Leggett said this week only recently had his arm started to return to his 2012 form, but Eastern Michigan touched him up for three earned runs on three hits before he exited.
"We hadn't seen Kevin in a while and wanted to see what he had," Leggett said. "It just didn't work out real well. He'll do better for us as the season goes on. He didn't throw many good pitches in that inning. That's just the bottom-line."
Sidearming junior right-hander Kyle Schnell didn't fare much better, recording a lone out and also the lead-changing run.
Clemson's relief stabilized enough late to provide their offense plenty of chances, holding the Eagles without an earned run in the final 4 1/3 innings.
With two out starting the bottom of the 10th, a pair of Clemson freshman tried their hand at heroics, led by B-HP's own Andrew Cox. He knocked through one of his two hits on the night, but late-game entry and Wren product Eli White went down swinging.
Sophomore righty Clate Schmidt was the hard-luck loser, while EMU's Steve Weber earned the save for Calibruso's "W." The Tigers try to even things up at 2:30 p.m. today at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
"Obviously it's always good to get a win on Opening Day," Dunster said, "but this is a resilient team. One game isn't going to define our season. There's a lot of games so we're just going to come back tomorrow and take care of business."