By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Sometimes being a freshman isn’t a bad thing. At least it worked out for Clemson in its 7-6 victory over 12th-ranked Virginia on Saturday.
Zack Erwin, a freshman from Duluth, GA knew Clemson had not fared too well against the Cavaliers in the past few years, but he had no idea they had a nine-game losing streak that stretched over three years and had not beaten Virginia at home since 2007.
In fact, he had no clue that Clemson had lost 19 of the previous 21 games in the series.
“From what I have heard, we have had a tough time against them,” Erwin said. “They are a great team. We finally managed to snag one. I believe we should have had one (Friday) night, but we got a little unlucky.”
There was no luck needed once Erwin came in on Saturday. The lefty shut the door on a Virginia offense that had tallied eight hits and scored five runs through the first five innings. But Erwin used his slider early to keep the Cavaliers (16-2, 3-2 ACC) off balance and then used his changeup and fastball to take care of business until going back to his slider in the ninth inning.
Erwin allowed just one run on one hit and one walk in the final five innings, while striking out three batters. It just seemed as if the 6-foot-4, 180-pound freshman wasn’t thinking about the losing streak or the fact he was pitching against the 12th-ranked team in the country in front of 5,006 fans. Instead, he was out there having fun.
“Sometimes that can work to your advantage and sometimes it can be a disadvantage,” Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. “He seemed to be relaxed tonight. Once he got through that first situation, I think he came in during the middle of the inning, but once he got through that he started to relax a little bit. Then he got through the next inning.”
Then Erwin started to cruise. After coming in for starter Clate Schmidt in the top of the fifth inning with a runner on third and no outs, the freshman retired the side before any more damage was done.
The Cavaliers were able to get a double from third baseman Nick Howard, who later scored, in the eighth inning, but that’s all they got on Erwin.
“We were a little thin tonight because we used so many people (in the bullpen) last night that we had to ride him as far as we could and he was a pretty good matchup against those lefties,” Leggett said. “They have some good left-hand hitters in their order so he is a pretty good matchup against those guys.
“It was a little dangerous with the right-hand hitters coming up, but he changed speeds, threw his breaking ball and kept them a little off-balance and we played pretty good defense behind him.”
In the top of the ninth, Erwin was not fazed at all with the situation or what happened in the eighth inning. Instead he got first baseman Jared King to strikeout looking and then induced Derek Fisher and Brandon Downes into fly balls to leftfield to sit Virginia down.
“It was great to do that,” Erwin said. “I’m just pumped that we won. It was really big that I was able to help save some arms for tomorrow.”
His teammates were able to award Erwin with his first victory when catcher Ben Boulware blasted a ball to the gap in right centerfield with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring Thomas Brittle with the game-winning run.
“This was a hug win,” Erwin said. “In ACC play you need to get as many wins as you can get. We managed to pick one up and now we are going to try and come out tomorrow and win the series.”
Clemson (11-6, 3-2 ACC) will host the Cavaliers at 1 p.m. today in the rubber match of the three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The Tigers will start Scott Firth (2-2, 0.98 ERA), while Virginia will counter with righty Nick Howard (2-1, 0.81 ERA).