CLEMSON – Once Clemson displayed some discipline at the plate, the Tigers’ bats were alive.
Autocorrecting from a wayward season opener, Clemson walked and balked its way to a 9-4 victory Saturday to equalize a three-game series with Maine at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in front of 4,618 fans. The series is scheduled to be settled Sunday at 1 p.m., though rainy skies are in the forecast.
Clemson is 1-1 for the sixth consecutive season, having lost four of those six season openers.
The Tigers drew eight walks and were plunked three times, content to take what was given early on in the game. Maine starter Chris Murphy had much trouble locating the strike zone (40 pitches, 25 balls), but the Tigers would not help him with bad swings the way they assisted the Black Bears’ pitchers in Friday’s 4-3 defeat.
“We took advantage of a starter who struggled to throw strikes,” head coach Monte Lee said. “It’s a free 90 (feet.) It’s the same thing as a line drive in the book. We want to get on base as many times as we possibly can.”
First baseman Chris Williams scored the Tigers’ first run on a bases-loaded balk by Murphy, and All-American catcher Chris Okey recorded the first RBI of his season with a bases-loaded walk.
Third baseman Adam Renwick and left fielder Reed Rohlman added RBI doubles during a five-run second inning, and freshman right fielder Seth Beer knocked in two runs on his first career hit during a four-run third inning. Clemson led 9-1 after three frames.
“Last night, we were all a little swing-happy on Opening Day,” Rohlman said. “We went over it last night, talked about our approaches in pregame, and settled down in the box a lot better today.”
Beer had sent two long fly balls to the warning track – one Friday, one Saturday – and smoked a long foul ball on a 3-0 count before finally raising his batting average above .000 with the two-run, two-out hit.
“That takes a lot of pressure off your back,” said Beer, a top recruit who enrolled at Clemson in January. “Obviously, flying out to the warning track a couple times is a little disheartening, but the stress wasn’t really there.”
Senior right-hander Clate Schmidt, in his first start since defeating Hodgkin’s lymphoma last summer, picked up the victory.
“I didn’t really get that much sleep last night, leading up to the game. Just excitement, running through everything that’s gone on and thinking about all the hardships,” Schmidt said. “Once we started warming up about 30-40 minutes (before first pitch), I dialed back in. Just typical adrenaline on a start day.”
Schmidt needed just seven pitches (six strikes) to get through the first three outs, and sailed through the first eight batters before running into some trouble in the fifth inning. Schmidt allowed eight hits and four runs in five-plus innings of work.
“I’ve never been through anything like this with a player before, never seen a kid come back from cancer,” Lee said. “You don’t know how it’s going to turn out, will he be able to pitch again and will be 100 percent? He’s been 100 percent ever since he’s toed the rubber. He made an unbelievable physical recovery.”
Pat Krall delivered 3 2/3 innings of work, and freshman Ryley Gilliam struck out Jeremy Pena for the game’s final out. Clemson pitchers produced 12 strikeouts against just two walks, a night after Charlie Barnes and Alex Eubanks issued one walk and 14 strikeouts.
“Again, that’s a really good sign, two days into the season as far as our pitching staff,” Lee said. “We’re pounding the strike zone and forcing teams to beat us by getting hits.”
Clemson shortstop Eli White scored twice, walked twice and stole three bases.
Lee earned his first win in a Clemson uniform, after seven years guiding his alma mater College of Charleston.
“I’ve always kept box scores and the dugout chart from memorable games,” Lee said. “I will definitely keep the box score and dugout chart today.”
Freshman southpaw Jake Higginbotham is scheduled to make his debut start Sunday afternoon.