By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Shane Kennedy held the baseball in his hands, holding it as if it was a prized possession.
And it was.
Just a few moments earlier in the bottom of the eighth inning, he knocked that same baseball into the Chapman Grandstands in left field. The home run scored Steve Wilkerson, who was on second, as well, as Clemson opened the 2013 season with a 2-0 victory over William & Mary.
“This is the lucky ball,” Kennedy said. “I think someone wanted an autograph over there that retrieved it so I’m going to do that for them.”
Kennedy’s home run was only the Tigers’ sixth hit of the afternoon as William & Mary’s Brett Koehler kept them off balance all night as he pitched in all eight innings for the Tribe.
“He knew how to pitch and he threw strikes. He wasn’t going to give you much,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “He wasn’t going to walk many people so he did not give us many opportunities that way. He knew how to change speeds.”
Kennedy had struck out once and was 0-3 prior to his bomb to left.
“I was really just trying to get on base and make contact with the ball, and I got lucky enough and it went,” Kennedy said.
It went because Koehler made his first and only mistake of the day. He threw a fastball on the first pitch of the at-bat and Kennedy made enough contact to send it out of the yard.
“It was amazing,” Clemson pitcher Daniel Gossett said. “Kyle Whitman and I actually called it. We said, ‘We need a home run right now. It would be huge to see it go out.’ Then when it happened, it was insane.
“It was a game-changer obviously.”
Gossett did his best to make sure no one on William & Mary’s side changed the game. He pitched 6.2 innings for Clemson, allowing only four hits, while striking out six and walking just one.
“Daniel pitched really well, and we played really good defense,” Leggett said. “We turned a double play when we had to and we made some nice plays. We did everything we had to do on the pitching and the defensive side of things.”
The double play came in the top of the fifth inning when second baseman Steve Wilkerson and freshman shortstop Tyler Krieger turned one to end a Tribe threat, while freshman Steven Duggar made some nice defensive plays in the outfield and recorded three of the Tigers’ six hits.
“Those two freshmen are going to be good players for us,” Leggett said. “They stepped up for us.”
In the end, Joseph Moorefield, Clay Bates and Matt Campbell finished William & Mary off on the mound, while Kennedy got the right pitch to send Clemson home as winner in the season opener. The junior college transfer proved in his first game as a Tiger why he was so sought after.
“He has some power,” Leggett said. “He was swinging a little bit uphill on his first few at-bats and he flattened that one out a little bit and if he can learn to do that and stay consistent with that, he will hit a few more of those things.”
Clemson will host William & Mary in Game 2 of the three-game series tomorrow at 2 p.m.