Tigers pitch their way to three-game sweep of Tribe


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Logan Davidson takes a swing early in the game (Photo by David Grooms)
Logan Davidson takes a swing early in the game (Photo by David Grooms)

CLEMSON – Clemson’s offense wasn't great during the season’s opening weekend, but it was good enough. The pitching, on the other hand, was really good as the Tigers swept the Tribe.

No. 12 Clemson mustered just five hits Sunday but scored two runs but it was enough to defeat Willliam & Mary 2-1 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium as the Tigers started the season with a three-game sweep. Clemson improves to 3-0 while William & Mary fell to 0-3. This is the first time in Clemson baseball history that the Tigers have opened the year with 3 wins by 1 run. It was the first opening-weekend sweep for Clemson since 2009.

Clemson hit just .230 (20-for-87) in the series, but the pitching staff allowed just seven runs in 28 innings. Tiger pitchers struck out 36 hitters and walked just two on the weekend.

Jake Higginbotham was stellar in his return to the mound, picking up the win. Ryley Gilliam pitched the ninth for his first save of the season. Gilliam picked up the win Friday night.

"It felt good just to be back out there. I worked really hard to get healthy and stay healthy and hopefully can continue that trend throughout the season," Higginbotham said. "I used mainly just fastballs. They had nine righties in the lineup so we didn't use the sliders as much. The changeup was effective late, but mainly just fastballs through the first four innings."

Head coach Monte Lee said Clemson's pitching was on point.

"It was great to get a sweep on the opening weekend. I can't thank our fans our enough for coming out and supporting our guys on a Sunday," Lee said. "The story of the game today was Jake Higginbotham. He did an unbelievable job. I don't know if I could've asked for a better start out of him. It's been a long time coming for Jake. Pitched a lot for us as a freshman and then had an injury last year. I don't know if I could've asked for a better start. Travis Marr and Ryley Gilliam were both outstanding. Marr did an outstanding job and Ryley was Ryley, and we needed them to be today because we could not find a way to score offensively. I thought our defense was excellent.

"Our infield defense today was really good. Chris Williams, I don't know how many balls he scooped out of the dirt to save errors at first base. Wilkie caught extremely well. We've got to find a way to swing the bats. I'm a little frustrated just because of our expectations on offense, but part of the blame is me. I putting maybe too much pressure on them and talking about it too much, but we've just got to free it up and swing it a little bit more. Overall, any time you can get a sweep opening weekend and pitch and defend the way we did this weekend, you've got to feel pretty good about it. Overall, good job by our guys and hopefully we can carry some momentum into our first midweek game."

The Tigers scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the second. Chris Williams lined a single to left start the frame and advanced to third on Robert Jolly’s single to left-center. Williams came around to score on Drew Wharton’s RBI grounder to third for a 1-0 lead.

Clemson added on in the fourth. Seth Beer walked and stole second a few pitches before a Jolly walk. Wharton walked with one out to load the bases, but Kyle Wilkie struck out for the second out. Designated hitter Justin Hawkins, getting his first start of the season, was hit by a pitch on a 1-1 count to force in Beer for a 2-0 Tiger lead.

Higginbotham, making his first appearance in nearly two years (666 days), didn’t allow a baserunner through the first five innings but ran into trouble in the sixth. Owen Socher stroked a one-out double down the left field line and scored on Zach Pearson’s single to center. That was the end of the day for Higginbotham, who pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up two hits, one run, striking out three and walking none. He threw 77 pitches, 50 of them for strikes.

He was replaced by Travis Marr, who pitched out of further trouble and wound up pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Marr pitched just one inning last season before an injury forced a redshirt.

"It felt good. It was definitely good to get the nerves out of the way," Marr said. "Last year, it was kind of a similar situation early on and then I didn't end up throwing again. My team has definitely encouraged me to get back and get healthy."

Clemson returns to action Tuesday, hosting Furman at 4 p.m. The Tigers open a three-game series against Dallas Baptist next Friday.

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