CLEMSON, S.C. — A 3-2 pitch from Wake Forest closer Griffin Roberts sailed a little high, walking home the winning run for Clemson with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th.
Adversity will strike during the course of the five-month long college baseball season.
What happens when it hits could very well be the determining factor between a contender and a pretender, between just a good squad and a special team.
It struck Friday night at Clemson for this Wake Forest squad, as the Tigers walked off with an 8-7 win at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“It’s a bad loss. We have to come back and answer the bell tomorrow. You get losses like this along the way, and good teams find a way to respond to that,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “We need a good start out of Donnie Sellers tomorrow, and I’ve got no doubt we’ll get that.”
They overcame an early four-run deficit to take control of the game in the late inning — only to implode in the bottom of the 9th.
The Tigers didn’t strike the ball hard in the bottom of the 1st, but they hit the ball where they Deacs weren’t as they parlayed four hits into four runs.
Despite the four 1st-inning runs and despite surrendering a career-high 10 hits, Wake ace Parker Dunshee buckled down and made it through seven innings. He allowed five runs, with the four in the 1st all being earned. Dunshee struck out three and walked just one.
“He was awesome,” Walter said about Dunshee. “He gives up four in the 1st. He was outstanding. That was huge for us the rest of the weekend.”
Meanwhile the Deacs methodically climbed back in the contest. A two out-hit by Stuart Fairchild drove in a run in the top of the 3rd, and Gavin Sheets followed with a two-run blast to right-center field. That brought the Deacs to within 4-3.
“I was proud of them,” Walter said about his team’s ability to come back Friday. “Especially with two outs. After we got first and second we nobody out, we hit into a double play. It looked like it would be a rally killer, but then Stuey has a two-out RBI, then Gavin homers to make it 4-3 and we’re right back in it.”
A Bruce Steel single through a drawn-in Clemson infield gave Wake its first lead of the game at 6-5 in the top of the 8th. Jonathan Pryor walked with the bases loaded later in the inning to add an insurance run.
Wake closer Griffin Roberts took over in the bottom of the 8th and set the Tigers down in order, throwing just seven total pitches.
Roberts struck out designated hitter Robert Jolly to start the bottom of the 9th, and seemed to be well on his way to his fifth save of the season.
Then things got a little sideways.
Jordan Greene, the eighth batter in the Clemson lineup, dribbled a 2-2 pitch through the middle of the infield into center. Weston Jackson came in to pinch hit in the 9th slot, and was abruptly plunked on the first offering from Roberts.
Roberts got ahead 1-2 to Clemson leadoff hitter Chase Pinder, then threw three straight balls to load the bases.
Clemson’s Reed Rohlman fought off a 3-1 offering for a liner to right field to score a run. The Tiger baserunners had to hold to see if Wake right fielder Keegan Maronpot was going to be able to track it down and were only able to advance the one base.
Logan Davidson then flied out to deep center field to allow the tying run to tag and score. Roberts walked the next two batters to load the bases then walk in the winning run for the Tigers.
“We had a two-run lead with Griffin Roberts on the mound,” Walter said. “They were down to their final two outs with their 8 and 9 guys up. We’re going to win that game 49 times out of 50, but today wasn’t our day.”
Roberts tossed 43 pitches and may be unavailable for the doubleheader Saturday.
“It will depend on how he feels. There’s a chance. He shown the ability to go back-to-back days and be better the second day,” Walter said. “If he feels good and it’s a save situation, then he’ll be in there. If he doesn’t feel good, we’ve got a long way to go in this — we’ll find someone else to get those outs.”
The game featured huge shifts in momentum, more than 5,000 raucous Clemson fans and a handful of iffy calls by the umpiring crew.
“It’s a tense game, the crowd was into it and every pitch was important. These are college kids,” Walter said. “They play with emotion and that’s the good thing about college baseball.”
The series concludes Saturday with a doubleheader. Game two is slated for a 2 p.m. first pitch. Donnie Sellers (3-2, 4.35) will start for the Deacs against Clemson’s Alex Eubanks (5-3, 3.90). The final game will start approximately 45 minutes after game two concludes, with Wake starting Connor Johnstone (5-0, 2.87) against Pat Krall (6-0, 2.77) for the Tigers.
“These guys will be ready. It’s a veteran club. We’ll answer the bell. We need a good start out of Donnie Sellers,” Walter said. “That’s an important part of the equation. If he’s sharp, we’ll have a great shot to win."