DURHAM, N.C.—A cheer rose up from the Duke players watching in the left-field party pavilion as Wilson Boyd cranked a three-and-two fastball off the giant "Wilson Boyd" sign displayed on the Blue Monster video board. A much louder roar came from the orange-clad fans behind the first-base dugout, and Clemson’s players bounded out of the dugout to mob Mike Freeman, who crossed the plate with the winning run.
In a tournament largely devoid of that kind of excitement, today’s 4-3 Clemson win against North Carolina in 11 innings was far and away the best game of the week.
"Well, it was a really, really good college baseball game," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "It was a good battle, one of those epic, classic baseball games. That’s what we needed to see going into next weekend."
When a reporter informed UNC coach Mike Fox that the crowd of nearly 7,000 was the largest to ever witness a college game in the state of North Carolina, he wasn’t surprised.
"That’s terrific. I knew it was loud—louder than I heard in Boshamer," Fox said of UNC’s home stadium. "They were more enthusiastic today, I guess that’s because there were more of them. They should come back now—they sure got their money’s worth, because that was exciting."
Boyd’s walk-off single came with two outs and the bases loaded after he had already fouled off three pitches. Freeman had started the rally with an infield single, and he reached third when UNC reliever Patrick Johnson airmailed the throw to first base and right fielder Garrett Gore failed to back it up. The Tar Heels intentionally walked the next two hitters to set up a force at any base, and Boyd said he keyed on Johnson’s fastball once the count ran full.
Leggett said he couldn’t have written a better script for his team to build some momentum heading into regionals after losing the first two games this week. I never figured the Tigers were in serious danger of losing their grip on a regional host, but an 0-3 showing here might have given them some anxious moments. Clemson needed to avoid the goose egg to lock up a host spot, and it did so.
But Duke had the most to gain from Clemson’s victory. The Blue Devils now control their own destiny: They can clinch a trip to the ACC championship game against Florida State with a win tonight against Virginia. Duke has one of my favorite freshmen on the mound tonight in lefthander Eric Pfisterer, who turned in his best career start last week against Georgia Tech. He looked good in the first inning, allowing just a walk and striking out Dan Grovatt to end the frame. Here’s my glowing report on Pfisterer (a New Jersey prep product) from last year’s Draft Preview:
Pfisterer is a projectable 6-foot-4 lefthander who works in the 86-92 mph range with his fastball and spots it to both sides. He has an advanced feel for pitching and the makings of a good changeup and decent curve. Pfisterer is considered a tough sign and figures to head to Duke, where he could be a two-way player in the mold of Virginia’s Sean Doolittle.
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