CLEMSON - Just like that, momentum has washed away.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: vs. Georgia, 6:30 p.m., CSS/ESPN3.com
Friday: at No. 2 Virginia, 6 p.m.
Saturday: at No. 2 Virginia, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday: at No. 2 Virginia, 1 p.m.
Clemson was flying high, winners of six straight, before the Tigers' clutch hitting and defense betrayed them in a disappointing series defeat to visiting NC State. The Wolf Pack claimed the rubber match 7-1 Monday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in front of a scattered crowd due to chilly, rainy conditions.
The Tigers won seven consecutive home series against NC State between 1998-2010, but the Wolf Pack have taken two of three in each of its past two trips to Clemson.
Monday's game was as sloppy as the weather, at least for the hosts. Clemson was awarded six walks, but struck out 11 times and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-3 with the bases loaded.
"We just weren't able to get a big hit with men on base," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "We had a chance to open doors for ourselves, but we just couldn't figure that out."
Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Clemson summoned a rally when shortstop Tyler Krieger walked to load the bases with one out for the heart of the order. But designated hitter Garrett Boulware fanned and right fielder Steven Duggar flew to right, snuffing the rally.
"I'm not worried about offense. We're doing a pretty good job right now. Tonight was just a tough one for us," Duggar said. "We hit a couple balls hard right at people. But we're going to keep competing, we're going to keep fighting and those hits will fall for us."
Meanwhile, Clemson (20-11, 9-5 ACC) committed four errors. The most costly miscue came in the top of the second, a 2-run throwing error by Krieger extending NC State's lead to 3-0.
The Wolf Pack had the bases loaded with nobody out, and speedster Trea Turner at the plate. Turner tapped starting pitcher Clate Schmidt's delivery back to the mound, and Schmidt connected with catcher Chris Okey and first baseman Shane Kennedy on what seemed to be a rally-crushing double play.
"Which is a really tough thing," Leggett said, "because you can pitch against him 100 different times in that situation and you're not going to double him up."
When the next batter, Preston Palmeiro, hit a grounder to short, it looked like crisis averted. But Krieger threw wildly to first, allowing two runs to score. Those were two of Clemson's three unearned runs allowed.
"That hurt, that hurt. That wasn't good timing," Leggett said. "We were fortunate to get out of it, then we made a good pitch to Palmeiro, and we just didn't make the play."
NC State (19-12, 5-10) had lost ten consecutive league games before Sunday. The Wolf Pack swept Notre Dame on opening weekend but then was swept by Florida State, Maryland and Miami.
The first time Clemson reeled off a six-game winning streak this spring - against non-conference competition Feb. 15-25 - the Tigers stumbled to a four-game skid, including a sweep at the hands of South Carolina.
The road's just as tough now; No. 14 Clemson gets Georgia at home for one game Tuesday, but then travels to No. 2 Virginia (27-5, 12-3) for a 3-game set with the ACC Coastal Division leaders this weekend.
"If you don't come out here and expect to win, you're probably in the wrong place," Duggar said. "These last two were pretty tough. We'll regroup tonight and come out tomorrow and hopefully we can start a new (winning streak.)"