Though he is pitching in Game 1 of the Clemson-South Carolina series, sophomore says he cannot let the moment become too big
This time last year, Jacob Hennessy was coming out of the bullpen for seventh-ranked Clemson and did a pretty good job of shutting down the opposition for an inning or two before closer Ryley Gilliam would come in and finish things off.
This year, Hennessy is still doing a pretty good job of shutting teams down. However, he is now doing it as the starter. And not just as any starter, either.
Tonight, when the Tigers open their three-game series against rival South Carolina at Founders Park in Columbia, the sophomore will start for the third straight week as the Friday starter, and he will get the baseball first for Clemson in the South Carolina series.
That’s a big deal for the Moore, S.C., native who grew up as a Clemson fan and always found a way to get to Greenville’s Fluor Field back in the day to watch the Gamecocks and Tigers go at it as part of the Reedy River Rivalry.
“It is just South Carolina and Clemson,” Hennessy said. “There is no other way to put it. It is the greatest rivalry in baseball and the fans definitely show it.”
Tonight’s seven o’clock game will not be the first time Hennessey has pitched in college baseball’s best rivalry. He came out of the bullpen in all three games last year against the Gamecocks, a series the Tigers won with wins in Greenville and Columbia.
In the three games, Hennessey pitched a total of 1 2/3 innings. He did not allow a run, gave up just one hit and walked one batter. Granted, they were not long outings, but they were long enough to give him the experience of pitching on such a big stage so early in his career.
“It lived up to every expectation that I had,” Hennessy said.
Founders Park is sure to be sold out tonight and most of the 8,000 fans will be wearing garnet and black. It’s one of the toughest environments to play at in college baseball, and even more so for a team that wears orange and has Clemson written across the front of its jersey.
The good news for Clemson is Hennessy has at least experienced what the atmosphere is like for a pitcher on the mound at Founders Park. He came out of the bullpen in the Tigers’ come-from-behind, 5-3, victory there last year.
“It really helps being in that situation before and in that atmosphere,” he said. “I felt like I handled it very well last year, but always having that experience helps going into it. It was like another game, but it was just a little bit louder. A little bit more excitement in the stadium.”
Hennessy, who is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his first two starts, admits playing against the Gamecocks was a little surreal at first. However, in the end, it is still baseball and his job was still the same. He had to get the batter out.
“Friday, after the first batter, I just kind of settled in and realized it is just baseball and it is the same thing I have been doing forever,” he said. “It’s just about going out there and doing it. Stick to my process and my plan.”