After 345 days, the Clemson baseball team returned to the diamond for their first matchup of the 2021 season. The Tigers topped the Cincinnati Bearcats 5-0 Friday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Davis Sharpe picked up the win on the mound for the Tigers and Matt Clark recorded the four inning save.
Davis Sharpe, a third year two-way player, started the season on the bump for the Tigers. In the top of the first, Sharpe allowed one hit to the Bearcats’ first baseman Ryan Nicholson and a walk in the top of the second. Both came with two outs and the Tigers were able to retire the next batter both times to avoid trouble early in the ball game.
Right handed pitcher Evan Shawver got the nod on the bump for the Bearcats to face the Tigers’ predominantly right-handed lineup. Right fielder Dylan Brewer reached on a single into center field in the first inning, but was quickly retired when left fielder Elijah Henderson grounded into a double play to end the Tigers’ half of the first inning.
Shortstop James Parker led off the second with a double off the 390-foot center field wall. After catcher Jonathan French reached on an error by the Bearcats’ third baseman, designated hitter Bryar Hawkins reached base on a fielder’s choice that retired French at second base. Second baseman Pierce Gallo reached base on a fielder’s choice that retired French at home plate and advanced runners to first and second for the Tigers. Preseason freshman All-American Caden Grice beat out an infield single, but Hawkins was thrown out at the plate by Nicholson. After a brief review, the umpiring crew confirmed the call at the plate, and the Tigers came up empty-handed in the inning, despite having all five batters reach base.
Sharpe returned to the mound for the Tigers in the third and made short work of the Bearcats striking out the first two batters of the inning and inducing a fly ball to left field to end the Bearcats’ half of the third.
Center fielder Bryce Theodosio started the bottom of the third inning with an infield hit up the middle. After a Blake Wright fly out to left field, the Tigers had two on with one out following Brewer’s walk. The Tigers were unable to capitalize on the two runners as Henderson flew out to centerfield for the second out of the inning and Bearcats’ catcher Joe Powell picked Brewer off of first base to retire the Tigers in the third.
Sharpe struck out the side in the top of the fourth to retire the Bearcats in order. In the bottom of the fourth, Parker collected his second hit of the game, a single into left field. French flies into right field for the first out of the inning, which brought up Hawkins, who drew a walk to give the Tigers multiple base runners for the second time in the game. However, again the Tigers came up empty when Gallo struck out swinging and Grice hit a hard ball into center field that was ultimately caught by Bearcats’ center fielder Jake Murrary under the shadow of the scoreboard.
In the top of the fifth, Sharpe picked up a pair of strikeouts and retired the side in order again.
Fellow right handed pitcher Nathan Moore replaced Shawver on the hill for the fifth inning. Theodosio started the bottom of the fifth for the Tigers with an 0-2 base hit into left field and moved into scoring position when he stole a base during Wright’s at-bat. Wright hit a sacrifice fly into center field, which Theodosio just beat out to reach third base with one out. With the infield in, Brewer knocked a single by the second baseman to plate the first run of the game. After a flyout by Henderson, Parker was hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count to give the Tigers runners on first and second with two outs. Parker ran out of the box, clearly in pain, but was able to run to first and run the bases for himself.
Left handed pitcher Mat Clark took over on the mound for Sharpe to start the sixth inning. Sharpe finished the game with five innings pitched and nine strikeouts to just one walk. Clark made quick work of the Bearcats in his first inning of work, striking out two and retiring the side in order.
The Bearcats again switched right handed pitchers for the seventh inning, this time bringing in Beau Keathley in relief of Moore. Keathley allowed the first two batters to reach by walking Hawkins and giving up a single off the bat of Gallo following a six pitch at-bat. Keathley quickly rebounded by retiring Grice on a long line drive out to center and sitting Theodosio down looking on strikes. Wright drew a full count before rolling a ground ball to the third baseman, ending the inning and again stranding two runners on base for the Tigers.
The Tigers’ pitchers continued their dominant performance against the Bearcats in the seventh inning, where Clark picked up his second pair of strikeouts in the game, bringing the Tigers’ total to 13 strikeouts through seven innings pitched, and was the 16th consecutive batter retired by the Tigers, dating back to the second inning when Powell drew the only walk of the day off of Sharpe.
For the third inning in a row, the Bearcats turned to the bullpen for the seventh inning, although this time they put the ball in the hands of left handed pitcher Evan Kemp. Kemp walked Brewer and ran the 3-2 pitch in on Henderson, hitting him and putting runners on first and second with no outs for the Tigers. Parker attempted to move the runners over with a bunt, but failed to do so twice, instead gifting Kemp a strikeout to leave the runners at first and second. However, both runs came around to score when French knocked the first homerun of his career to straight-away center, picking up three RBIs along the way. Kemp fought back from a 3-0 count to retire Hawkins, but was unable to do so after falling behind to Gallo. The Bearcats ended the inning by throwing Grice out attempting to stretch a double into a triple, but not before Gallo came around to score from first base, increasing the Tigers’ lead to five heading into the top of the eighth.
Clark gave up his first hit of the ball game, just the second of the game for the Bearcats, with two outs in the top of the eighth off the bat of Murray, a grounder that just alluded the range of Gallo’s glove. Clark looked unaffected as he turned around and struck out Bearcats’ right fielder Paul Komistek for the third time in the game.
For the fourth time in as many innings, the Bearcats’ turned to their bullpen. The Bearcats switched back to a right handed pitcher, Jackson Murphy. Theodosio immediately singled off of Murphy, the ball avoiding the drive of both the shortstop and third baseman. A 3-6-3 double play off the bat of Brewer gave Murphy the most efficient inning of the game for a Bearcats’ pitcher since the opening frame.
Clark again retired the Bearcats in order, picking up another strike out and giving the Tigers their first win of the season. The Tigers return to the diamond tomorrow, Feb. 20, again against Cincinnati, at 3 p.m.