UP IN THE AIR
Duke coach Chris Pollard saw far too many of his players hitting harmless pop-ups or fly balls Wednesday against Clemson pitching.
Even Duke’s final out had just a bit too much air under it to complete a miraculous comeback.
With two runners on and two outs in the ninth inning, Clemson centerfielder Tyler Slaton ran down Mike Rosenfeld’s drive in right-centerfield and the Tigers topped Duke 5-3 in an ACC Tournament pool play game at NewBridge Bank Park.
Playing in their first ACC Tournament game since 2009, the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (32-24) continue pool play against No. 9 seed Georgia Tech today (3 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas, WDNC 620-AM).
Against No. 5 seed Clemson (35-22), Duke managed only six hits. Two from redshirt senior Ryan Deitrich provided all three Duke runs.
Deitrich smacked a two-run home run in the second inning and, after Clemson issued a pair of two-out walks in the ninth, he lined a run-scoring single to right field leaving the Tigers with a 5-3 lead.
Rosenfeld made a bid to tie the game. But his line drive hung up long enough for Slaton to catch it and seal the Tiger win.
Pollard wasn’t happy with his team’s execution at the plate as Clemson starter Matthew Crownover and two relief pitchers shut the Blue Devils down.
“The difference in the ballgame was up until Chris Marconcini hit the groundball to first base with one out in the ninth, we didn’t have an infielder make a play all day,” Pollard said. “We were content to pop the ball up in the air. We talked about the importance of forcing their infield to make plays, and we didn’t adjust as the game went on and that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Crownover (8-5) proved exceptional for Clemson. The left-hander pitched 7 ⅔ innings, striking out nine and walking one while allowing five hits and two runs.
His lone mistakes came in the second inning when Marconcini hit a lead-off single and scored when Deitrich hit a two-out home run to left giving Duke a 2-0 lead.
After that, the Blue Devils were unable to put any heat on Crownover.
“I think the pitcher did a really good job of hitting his spots and mixing speeds,” Deitrich said. “I think that had a lot to do with it. He had a pretty good changeup. But it goes back to our approach in batting practice and getting on top of the ball and hitting line drives.”
Duke starting pitcher Michael Matuella’s approach against Clemson’s batters worked for the first three innings. The hard-throwing sophomore right-hander struck out four over the first three innings while keeping Clemson off the board and limiting the Tigers to one hit.
But the Tigers started measuring up Matuella’s offerings in the fourth inning, when they bunched three hits together to cut Duke’s lead to 2-1.
In the fifth inning, Chris Okey and Weston Wilson singled with one out for the Tigers. After Matuella retired Tyler Slaton on a foul pop up, Tyler Krieger lined a double down the right-field line to drive in two for a 3-2 Clemson lead.
“We did get some big hits today,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “We built some innings. Made (Matuella) pitch from the stretch. That was one of the other things we tried to do was get them in the stretch, because they’re not quite as effective as from the wind‑up. When we built the two innings in the fourth and the fifth, that was big for us just to take the lead.
Despite those two innings, Matuella (1-3) had an effective start. He pitched 6 ⅔ innings, allowing three runs and eight hits. But after striking out four over the first three innings, he didn’t strike out another batter the rest of the way.
“I think they started sitting on my fastball,” Matuella said. “ My fastball started to get elevated a little bit. When that starts to happen, it didn’t move as much, and they put a lot of good swings on the ball today. I have to do a good job getting the ball down and mixing it up a little more. But a lot of credit to Clemson.”
Down 3-2 in the sixth inning, Duke’s had a chance to tie when Andy Perez walked with one out and stole second with two outs. But Marconcini, batting clean up, was retired on one of those harmless fly balls, this one to left field, to end the inning.
Of Duke’s 27 outs in the game, 14 game via fly balls or pop ups with another nine via strikeout.
The Tigers added two insurance runs in the ninth inning aided by Duke third baseman Jordan Betts’ error and three walks (two intentional). Steven Duggar’s one-out single off Andrew Istler brought in both runs to give Clemson a 5-2 lead.
Those runs proved huge in the bottom of the ninth when Duke mounted the rally that produced one run before Rosenfeld came to the plate representing the potential game-winning run.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett had hoped to not use closer Matt Campbell after he was heavily used in the regular-season ending series with Boston College last weekend.
After Drew Moyer issued the two walks in the ninth, Deitrich drove an RBI single off Campbell. But Campbell got Rosenfeld on the line drive to the outfield to end the game.
NOTE — Duke played Wednesday without first baseman Aaron Cohn and shortstop Kenny Koplove, who were both injured last weekend at Florida State. Cohn, who was hit in the face with a ball, has been ruled out for the entire ACC Tournament. Koplove, suffering from concussion symptoms, has been medically cleared to return and could be available for today’s game with Georgia Tech, Pollard said.