Opening day felt a lot different in Clemson on Friday as No. 25 Clemson defeated Cincinnati 5-0 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Per the standard, the game was a sellout, but with just 1,280 fans in attendance due to COVID-19 protocols. The ceremonial first pitch was virtual, the teams didn’t shake hands and the Tigers went straight into the dugout at the conclusion of the game.
The unique challenges due to the pandemic and state restrictions made for a much different experience, but nonetheless, Clemson looked impressive in its first outing despite the difficulty.
Head coach Monte Lee noticed the differences in crowd size and pageantry but appreciated opening day more than any other time in his baseball career.
“It’s been a long time coming and I probably enjoyed opening day this year more than I ever have before,” the Clemson coach said. “I didn’t sleep very well last night, but other than that it was a great day at the ballpark and I thought our guys did a good job of managing their emotions and just competing for nine innings and all in all it was a great day.”
Lee acknowledged the stark differences between the experience of baseball in the midst of restrictions and had to handle the dugout with more caution.
He even had to give Bearcats’ head coach Scott Googins a fist bump after the game to show his respect without getting too close to the opponent to maintain distance.
“The players didn’t shake hands. We told our guys after the game to shower and go home and not go up into the stands to see their family and try to stay away from the fans after the game,” Lee said.
Davis Sharpe had an outstanding start on the mound for the Tigers with five scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit and one walk while he struck out nine Bearcats in a dominant performance.
The redshirt sophomore noticed less fans in the crowd, but felt more relaxed and confident than in his previous two opening weekend starts at Clemson.
“Today was different without having 5,000 fans, but it was different for me because the last two times I went out and started on opening day I was really nervous and had a lot of jitters,” he said. “I was super relaxed the whole time I was out there, and it might just be because I was older, but I just really trusted my preparation for the moment. That’s one of the reasons I had so much success out there today, I was just being myself and I had fun.”
Lee was proud of the way his team handled the emotions of opening day and played a complete game in virtually every facet.
“There are a lot of jitters. There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty and we come out and win 5-0, have two guys pitch the way we did and have error free baseball and put together a lot of really good at bats and a good day offensively,” Lee said. “All in all, I was pretty calm all day because of the perspective of going through last year and the appreciation of putting on the uniform today and playing somebody else.”
The Tigers return to action in Game 2 of the series with Cincinnati at 3 p.m. today.
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