DURHAM, N.C. — When he crossed home plate Thursday night, Drew Wharton was greeted by enthusiastic teammates Logan Davidson and Justin Hawkins. Just a few seconds before the senior outfielder launched a home run off Miami starter Jeb Bargfeldt that gave third-ranked Clemson a one-run lead at the time, but it did so much more.
In fact, it got the Tigers going.
Before Wharton’s home run went over the tall wall in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and hit the roof of the Tobacco Road restaurant in Durham, N.C., Clemson had just three hits and one run off Bargfeldt though the first five innings in its 7-1 victory over the Hurricanes in the 2018 ACC Baseball Championship.
Even Clemson’s one run to that point was not too impressive. Wharton scored back in the second inning when Jordan Greene hit a ground ball to shortstop, which was hit deep enough to allow him to cross home plate.
It was the exact opposite to Wednesday’s record-setting day against Notre Dame when the Tigers (45-13) scored 17 runs off 11 hits in the fourth inning.
“He was working a lot of fastballs into hitters,” said Wharton, who finished the night 2-for-4 and scored twice. “I saw Chris’ (Williams) previous at-bat and he went fastball in a few times. So when he went changeup away like that, I was kind of looking for it in and he gave it to me middle in. I put a good swing on it and it got us going.”
What it did was spark another big inning by the Tigers, which seems to be the norm for them at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Tigers used one big inning to rout Notre Dame on Wednesday and used several big innings in the ACC Championship Game two years ago to beat Florida State in the same ballpark.
“That always happens with us,” Wharton said. “Once someone breaks through like that we start getting the bats going and we start rolling as a team. It definitely felt good.”
It looked good, too. Wharton crushed Bargfeldt’s 1-0 offering to left field, giving Clemson a 2-1 lead at the time.
“I had no idea (where it went). I knew I hit it well so I just started running,” Wharton said. “I just put my head down. I did not even look at the ball. Coach (Monte Lee) told me where it went. I thought it was pretty cool, though.”
Two batters after Wharton’s home run, Greene kept the inning going with a base hit through the left side, which Davidson followed with a hit to the same spot. Catcher Kyle Wilkie, like he has done all season with runners in scoring position, came through again and drove Davidson in with a base knock through the left side as well.
Beer made the score 4-1 as went to the right side of the infield and brought Davidson home with an RBI single. Then Williams stepped up to the plate and crushed a three-run shot off Miami reliever Frankie Bartow for a 7-1 advantage.
“It was unreal. It was like a 96-mile per hour sinker,” Wharton said while describing Williams’ opposite field bomb to right. “The guy brought a lot of sink to his fastball so it was really impressive. That was a lot more impressive than my home run, I will tell you that right now.”
But without Wharton’s home run, Williams’ may not have happened. It was Wharton’s homer that got the team excited in the dugout and sparked the six-run inning.
“They were pumped up,” the senior said. “We knew that we were swinging at pitches out of the zone early so I just stayed relaxed, do not try and do too much. I did that so it calmed everyone down and got us going the rest of the game.”