By Will Vandervort
Clemson pitcher Scott Firth almost swallowed his gum when a line drive hit right to shortstop Tyler Krieger hit his glove and then fell to the ground. It was supposed to be a routine play that was going to seal the Tigers’ ninth straight victory.
But for a brief second or two, it was almost an error that could have extended the game.
“That was a little rollercoaster for a second,” Firth said. “I got caught somewhere between the mound and first base hoping Gibby held that bag.”
First baseman Jon McGibbon held the bag, while stretching out to snag the throw from Krieger for the game’s final out, clinching the 17th-ranked Tigers’ 1-0 victory over Wake Forest. It was Clemson’s second 1-0 win in six days, the first time that has happened since 1987 and the first time it has done that against two ACC teams in the same season.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett says he can’t remember if that has ever happened in his 34 years as a head coach.
“I can’t really remember that,” Leggett said. “Our pitching was outstanding today.”
Firth was one of four pitchers Saturday that combined to limit the Demon Deacons to seven hits, while striking out eight. Freshman Matthew Crownover earned the victory to improve to 5-0 on the year after going 5.1 innings in the start.
Crownover was also the starter and earned the win in last week’s 1-0 victory over Boston College. He has now gone 11.2 innings without giving up a run.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, I don’t think, and was not as crisp as he normally is, but he battles and throws strikes,” Leggett said. “He did some good things.”
For the second time in three games, Krieger brought home the winning run with a two-out hit up the middle in the bottom of the fifth inning to score Steven Duggar.
“I was just trying to battle through that at-bat,” the freshman said. “I had a couple of brutal swings early on and I just tried to stay the course and ended up getting a curveball hung over the middle and I did something with it.”
Other than Krieger, the Tigers (25-11, 11-6 ACC) got two hits from Shane Kennedy and one from Steve Wilkerson. In other words, it was all on the shoulders’ of the pitching staff and defense. Besides Crownover and Firth, Jonathan Meyer and Patrick Andrews also pitched.
“Our pitching was really good, our defense was pretty good tonight, and I thought that was the difference in the game,” Leggett said.
Wake Forest (19-19, 4-13 ACC) had its opportunities to tie the game or take the lead. The Demon Deacons were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The biggest blunder came in the top of the seventh inning when they had runners on first and second with one out.
Evan Stephens struck out swinging for the second out of the inning, but for some reason Joey Rodriguez took off running at first base, which forced Conor Keniry at second to do the same. McGibbon then threw Keniry out at third to end the threat.
Firth came on in the eighth inning for Andrews and sat Wake Forest down in order in the eighth and ninth innings to record his second save of the season, though Krieger made him sweat just a little with the last out.
“That was a good stretch. You have to give it to Gibs and Travis (Johnston) in there working on their flexibility or something,” the senior said. “Tyler made the play and that’s really all that matters. I don’t care how it looks, as long as you get me that out, I’m cool with it.”
The Tigers and Wake Forest will play again Sunday in Game 3 of the three-game series starting at 1 p.m. Clemson carries a nine-game win streak into the Sunday finale, its longest win streak since the 2006 team won 17 straight games on its way to the College World Series that year.