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Birdball Weekend Recap - #6/#7 Clemson

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The Eagles got two outstanding pitching performances on Saturday and Sunday, but were swept by the visiting Tigers

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

The Boston College baseball team’s first home series of the season did not go as planned this weekend, as they were swept by the number 6/7 Clemson Tigers. Though technically a home series for the Eagles, all three games were moved to the University of Rhode Island’s Bill Beck field due to field conditions in Chestnut Hill. The Tigers struck first on Friday night, taking an 8-2 decision over BC, and they blanked the Eagles 1-0 and 2-0 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, to earn the series sweep. Let’s take a closer look at each game from this past weekend:

Friday: Clemson 8 Boston College 2:

On a cold and drizzly New England afternoon, Clemson tagged BC starter Jacob Stevens for five runs in the first two innings of the game and forced the usually steady right hander from the game in the third, en route to an 8-2 victory in the series opener.

After scoring three runs in the first inning, and another pair in the second, the Tigers added another run in top half of the sixth off BC reliever Zach Stromberg to make the score 6-0. The Eagles would finally get on the board in the bottom half of the frame when, with one out, seniors Johnny Adams and Michael Strem recorded back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. The next batter, junior Donovan Casey, hit a chopper to third base, but beat the throw to first base, denying the Tiger’s double play attempt, allowing Adams to score and cutting Clemson’s lead to five. Clemson would add two more runs in the top of the seventh off freshman Jack Cunningham to push their lead to seven. The Eagles would strike again in the bottom of the eighth as Strem tripled with two outs in the inning, and was brought home on an infield single by Casey to make the score 8-2. That would be all the Eagles could muster off the combination of Clemson starter Charlie Barnes and reliever Patrick Andrews, and the Tigers would go on to win by the same score.

Casey led the Eagles at the plate on Friday with a 2 for 4 performance and both of BC’s RBI. Michael Strem was also 2 for 4 on the afternoon with a run scored. Adams also continued to stay hot, as the shortstop enjoyed a 1 for 3 day at the plate with a walk. Stromberg did a nice job in relief of Stevens, scattering three hits in three innings of work, while only allowing a single run and striking out four.

Saturday: Clemson 1 Boston College 0:

You could not ask for a better performance on the mound than the one Dan Metzdorf turned in for Boston College on Saturday afternoon. The sophomore left hander went six shutout innings, surrendering only two hits and striking out three. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Clemson starter Alex Eubanks matched Metzdorf almost pitch for pitch, throwing a complete-game shutout while allowing three hits and striking out ten. It was, in every sense of the term, a old fashioned pitcher’s duel.

Offense was at a premium on Saturday afternoon, with the game’s only run coming in the top of the seventh inning. After exiting the game following six masterful innings, Metzdorf was replaced on the mound by fellow sophomore John Witkowski, who had made his season debut on Tuesday after missing the first 17 games of the year due to injury. Witkowski issued walks to the first two batters he faced, and a sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third. The next Clemson batter hit a grounder to third and the runner, who was moving on contact, beat the throw home to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. That would be all Clemson would need for the win as Eubanks stymied the BC bats in the final three frames. The Eagles had opportunities earlier in the game to push a run across the plate, but could not capitalize.

Senior Johnny Adams, sophomore Gian Martellini, and freshman Jack Cunningham were the only Eagles to record hits on the day, as Adams was 1 for 4, Martellini 1 for 3, and Cunningham 1 for 2. Saturday’s loss marks the third time this season the Eagles have outhit their opponent but still gone on to lose the game.

Sunday: Clemson 2 Boston College 0:

Boston College got its second outstanding pitching performance in as many days on Sunday morning, this time from junior Brian Rapp. The right hander went a career-high seven shutout innings against the vaunted Clemson offense, striking out a career-high eight batters while issuing no walks. However, much like it was on Saturday, as good at Rapp was, Clemson starter Pat Krall was right there with him for seven and a third innings as well, holding the BC offense scoreless.

Rapp was on cruise-control for the entirety of his outing on Sunday and, after seven nearly-perfect innings, he gave way to reliever Zach Stromberg in the top of the eighth. After a walk and wild pitch put a Clemson runner on second base with no outs, junior Donovan Casey was moved to the mound from right field. Casey gave a up a single to the first batter he faced to put runners at first and third, and a sacrifice fly to centerfield off the bat of the next Clemson batter gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom half of the frame. BC had its biggest offensive opportunity in the bottom of the eighth as it loaded the bases with one out, but a strike out and long fly ball ended the threat and preserved the Clemson lead. The Tigers added an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning as Seth Beer led off the frame with a solo homerun to left-center field, before Casey retired the next three batters in order. Unfortunately, there was nothing-doing for BC in the bottom of the ninth, and the Eagles dropped the series finale 2-0.

Johnny Adams again led the Eagles at the plate, going 2 for 4 on the day with a stolen base. Senior Michael Strem also had a nice day, going 1 for 3 with BC’s only walk. Brian Dempsey, Jake Alu, Dante Baldelli and Chris Balogh each recorded hits on Sunday, as the Eagles outhit the Tigers again, 7-5, marking the fourth time this season BC has done so, but still lost the game.

Some thoughts on the weekend versus Clemson:

Well, there’s good news and bad news to take from this weekend’s performance. As always, we’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Through three conference weekends, the Eagles sit at 1-8 in the ACC with some ground to make up moving forward. Granted, these first three weekends have come against the three best teams in the conference, as all are in the top-10 nationally with serious potential to get to Omaha, but it would have been nice to scratch out maybe one or two more wins in that stretch to give the Eagles a little breathing room moving forward. Personally, I’m going to take Friday’s result with a grain of salt, as the performance Jacob Stevens turned in was completely atypical, and I think an abnormality we should not expect to see again this season. He is a much better pitcher than that, and I would not be surprised, given his nature and work ethic, if this most recent performance motivates him to go on a dominant tear from here out. Beyond Stevens, the pitching staff, while markedly better on Saturday and Sunday, gave up a combined 19 walks on the weekend. Giving up that many free bases will never end well and must be addressed immediately by the BC coaching staff. Also, being shut out on both Saturday and Sunday is not good. What makes it worse is the fact that in those two games, BC outhit Clemson 10-7 but still could not push a single run across the plate. Some of that has to do with the fact that Clemson’s pitchers, Eubanks and Krall, were throwing the ball exceptionally well, but if this team wants to win in the ACC they need to find a way to manufacture runs even when facing elite arms. Now, for the good news: how about Dan Metzdorf and Brian Rapp? The pair threw a combined 13 innings of shutout baseball versus one of the better lineups in the conference, while only giving up five hits total. That is outstanding. I think it would be unfair to expect that level of dominance from the pair for the remainder of the season, but, if those two can go out and compete every weekend behind Stevens, then BC has a serious shot to win some games in April and May. Also, the Eagles committed only one error on the weekend which moves them back toward the sure-handed defense we’ve come to expect from BC in recent years. Finally, Johnny Adams is starting to heat up. The senior was 4 for 11 on the weekend and raised his average almost 30 points. This is good news for the Eagles as Adams is a notoriously slow-starter, and to have him get going would be great for the Eagles’ lineup which has been plagued by injury so far this season. In short, this was not a great weekend in a “win-loss” sense, but there were definitely some positives to take away from the series with Clemson that will need to be continued, and built upon, moving forward. This week, BC will travel to Storrs, Connecticut on Tuesday to take on rival UConn before hosting UMass on Wednesday (hopefully) at Shea Field for the season’s true home opener. The Eagles will then hop on a plane, yet again, and fly down to Virginia Tech for a three-game series in Blacksburg the following weekend. My advice to the team entering this week: while each game should be played individually, and no opponent overlooked, the goal should be to have a 5-0 week and return to Boston next Sunday at 12-14 with a ton of momentum.