When the 17th-ranked Clemson Tigers broke things down prior to Friday night's 7-3 victory over Duke, they all knew to a man they wanted this game, and this series, more than any other they have played this year.
Not even back-to-back heartbreaking losses to No. 1 Georgia earlier in the week could break their spirits or motivation.
"When we broke it down, we were like ‘okay we just have to remember what they did to us last year and what happened and go prove it on the field. Let's go out there and play as hard as we can,'" Paulsen said.
And play they did.
The Tigers (19-9, 8-5 ACC) got 11 hits and rallied from a one-run deficit in the fifth inning after Ben Paulsen hit a two-run home run to deep right field.
After that, Clemson never trailed again.
The Tigers also got home runs from Kyle Parker and Jason Stolz. It was Stolz's first career home run.
"It felt great," Paulsen said. "We actually did that in that first game last Saturday up at Boston College. We just hit home run after home run. Once somebody gets on the board, it just seems like someone else is going to hit one and someone else is going to hit one after that."
It was a solid win for the Tigers who were still smarting from last year's third game at Duke.
That was the afternoon the Blue Devils failed to cover the field during a lightning delay after Clemson had taken a 8-6 lead following a Parker two-run homer in the top of the 11th. Eventually a rain storm caused the field to be unplayable and the game was called a tie.
Clemson felt that tie, though not directly, hurts it bid to the NCAA Tournament – the first tournament miss by the program in 22 years.
"We wanted to beat Duke anyway just because of what happened last year," Paulsen said. "(Coach Jack Leggett) didn't even have to get us up and we didn't have to get up for that game because we had the ammunition from last year I guess."
The Tigers fired first Friday when shortstop Brad Miller doubled to left-center field to score Parker in the second inning. After Duke took the lead in the fifth when Jeremy Gould and Jake Lemmerman produced back-to-back RBI hits, Paulsen went yard to change the momentum of the game.
"It always feels good to win," Leggett said. "Duke is a pretty good ballclub and we got some good pitching."
That pitching came from Clinton McKinney, who relieved starter Casey Harmon with two outs in the fifth, and finished the game. The senior from Greenville went a career-high 4.1 innings and gave up just four hits to secure his second-career win.
"Coming in with runners on base is what I have done my whole career," McKinney said. "For me it is more comfortable to come in with runners on base and a couple of more outs already recorded than start an inning and have to get all three out."
Stolz homered in the seventh to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead and then Parker led off the eighth with a home run. Mike Freeman and Wilson Boyd recorded RBIs later in the inning to up the score to 7-2.
"We got some big hits tonight when we had to. It was a good ballgame for us," Leggett said.
The Blue Devils scored one run in the ninth to close the scoring. The same two teams will meet Saturday night at 6:30 for Game 2 before closing out the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Tigers crush Duke
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