By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Scott Firth says it is easy to pitch eight innings when the defense plays the way it did on Sunday. And thanks to that defense and Firth’s career-high eight innings of work, Clemson completed its weekend sweep of Wright State with a 7-0 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Sunday’s shutout was the second straight for Clemson; marking the first time since 2009 the Tigers recorded back-to-back shutouts. It was also the first time in 11 years, a Clemson team shut out the same team in back-to-back games.
“I tell you what, our defense is playing excellent,” Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said.
In the Tigers’ three games against Wright State, the defense committed just one error, and that came in Game 1. In Sunday’s victory, Clemson recorded its eighth double-play of the year, had a one-handed stab from Jay Baum at third base to throw a runner out at first, while right fielder Steven Duggar threw two runners out at the plate, including one in the top of the eighth inning to preserve the shutout.
“Our defense right now is playing as well as I have seen any defense play behind me at least,” Firth said. “Duggar threw a couple guys out at the plate. The first one was a great play, and really everyone all around the diamond was making plays.
“Jay Baum at third, (Tyler Krieger) at short, Stevie (Wilkerson) at second, it is really a great defense. As long as you are aggressive out there as a pitcher, you have a good chance of somebody making a play out there.”
Clemson (5-1) recorded 14 ground ball outs on Sunday, and had four double-plays in the second game on Saturday. In all, Wright State had 39 base runners this weekend and only three crossed home plate.
“We played really good defense all weekend long,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “If we can bring that to the ballpark every day it is going to help us have chances to win.”
Those chances increase even more when Firth is in the game. The senior improved his overall record as a starter to 8-1 and is now 13-2 overall in decisions. On Sunday, he kept the ball low in the strike zone, which induced the Raiders (3-3) into so many ground balls.
“I just wanted to go out there and give my best possible performance because that’s what I’m expecting from everybody else,” Firth said.
In two starts this season, Firth (2-0) has allowed only one run on seven hits in 15 innings of work. He has nine strikeouts and has issued only three walks. He threw 87 pitches against Wright State on Sunday and 59 of those were called for strikes.
“He has done a nice job, and hopefully he can keep that up,” Leggett said. “He is under control right now and is throwing strikes. He is working ahead in the count and is keeping his pitch count down. We are playing really good defense behind him and he knows he doesn’t have to strike everybody out. I think he is maturing and learning all of that.”
For the second Sunday in a row, the Clemson bats really didn’t come alive until the sixth inning when Duggar scored off a Jon McGibbon double to right field. In fact, Wright State starter Robby Sexton had a no-hitter going through five innings before Duggar broke it up with a double to right centerfield to start off the sixth.
The Tigers broke the game open in the bottom of the seventh with five more runs. Shane Kennedy recorded two RBIs, while Baum’s double to right field scored two runs as well. Duggar led Clemson with two hits in four official at-bats.
“We were able to scratch out some runs and got some big hits from Jay Baum and Shane Kennedy. I thought we played well all weekend,” Leggett said.
When you outscore an opponent 18-3 in three games and limit them to 24 hits, there is no reason not to think that.
“Our defense has been pretty close to outstanding,” Leggett said. “It has been spectacular defense. Our infield played extremely well and our outfield played well and Garrett Boulware has played really well blocking behind the plate and handling what he has to handle.
“That’s something you have to bring to the ballpark every day. It keeps you in the game.”