DURHAM, N.C. – Nate Freiman went 3-for-4 and became Duke’s all-time home run leader with his 43rd career home run to back a 7.1-inning start from classmate Andrew Wolcott that led Duke to a 10-4 win over No. 13 Clemson Friday evening at the ACC Tournament.
Freiman crushed the record-breaking homer in his third at bat of the day, sending his ACC-leading 20th long ball of the year over the Blue Monster at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. He just missed hitting another over the 35-foot tall fence when his seventh-inning double hit three feet from the top of the left-center field wall. He was one of two Blue Devils to homer in the game, joining sophomore shortstop Jake Lemmerman, who drove in three runs and was a single short of hitting for the cycle.
Lemmerman is now 6-for-8 with five RBI and four extra-base hits in Duke’s two ACC Tournament games, while Duke is 1-1 in tournament play and 8-9 against top-25 teams.
Duke’s 10-run, 11-hit explosion helped pace Wolcott (8-3), who beat the third-seeded Tigers (39-19) for the second time this season. Wolcott gave up just one run and six hits over his first seven innings before he was relieved in the eighth by junior Michael Ness, who entered the game with the bases loaded and one out and got out of the jam while allowing just one unearned run. Wolcott gave up four runs, though only two earned, in his 125-pitch start to improve to 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA against top-25 teams this year.
Junior leadoff man Alex Hassan also drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and a two-run single in the sixth inning. Hassan drove in two of Duke’s six runs in that inning to break open a game that Duke had previously led 2-1. All six runs came off of Clemson starter Chris Dwyer (4-5), who Duke tagged for six hits in his five innings of work.
Junior outfielder Jeremy Gould had two of those hits off of Dwyer to extend his ACC-leading hit streak to 21 games. Gould laid down a bunt single and scored in the sixth and then came through with another single in the seventh that was his 82nd of the season. Gould, whose 82 hits ranks tied for ninth on Duke’s single-season list, is just the 15th player in school history to knock at least 80 hits in a season.
After a scoreless first inning in which both Wolcott and Dwyer worked around one hit, Clemson five-hitter Kyle Parker put the Tigers on top with a first-pitch home run to lead off the second inning. Parker’s solo bomb was the first of three straight hits for the Tigers, who moved two men into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Duke’s defense came through once again, however, and got Wolcott out of the inning with an unconventional double play. With the runners on second and third, Jason Stolz dribbled a ground ball back to the mound that Wolcott gloved and fired to first base for the second out of the inning. On the same play, however, John Nester took off for third base where he joined Wilson Boyd, who did not leave for the plate. Nester was forced to retrace his steps back to second base where he was met in the middle of the base path by Freiman, who applied the tag for the final out.
Lemmerman responded to Parker’s homer with a solo shot of his own that tied the game at the start the bottom of the second. Lemmerman got ahead 2-1 in the count and then crushed Dwyer’s next offering over the Durham Bull down the left field line. The solo shot was the seventh homer of the season for Lemmerman and fifth bomb since April 18.
Clemson all but gave Duke the go-ahead run in the bottom of the third after committing two errors that put nine-hitter Ryan McCurdy on third base where he would score on a sacrifice fly. McCurdy ripped a hard-hit ground ball to open the inning that Clemson shortstop Brad Miller could not handle, allowing him a pass to first base. McCurdy then stole second and moved over to third when Nester’s throw skipped into center field, setting himself up to score on an ensuing sacrifice fly from Alex Hassan.
Wolcott, meanwhile, retired the side in order in the third and then negated a leadoff double in the fourth to keep Duke on top 2-1. Clemson first baseman Ben Paulsen ripped a two-bagger off the right field wall to start the inning, but was left on second base when Wolcott sat down the next three batters he faced, striking out two. Wolcott battled Parker – who homered in his previous plate appearance – in an 11-pitch at bat that the Duke senior eventually won by getting him to whiff on a two-strike breaking ball. He then got Boyd to fly out to center field before getting Nester to swing through a two-strike fastball that ended the inning.
Wolcott got into a jam in the fifth, but got bailed out by Gould, who made a catch at the wall in left-center field to preserve Duke’s one-run lead. With Stolz on third base and two outs on the board, Mike Freeman lifted a fly ball to the left-center field gap. Both Gould and center fielder Will Piwnica-Worms chased it down, but it was Gould who made the catch on the warning track just before he crashed into the wall. The catch saved a run and made up for a Duke fielding error that allowed Freeman to move to second base with one out. The error was Duke’s first in the last six games, but did no harm thanks to Gould’s run-saving catch.
After another three-up, three-down sixth inning from Wolcott, Freiman connected with a towering solo home run in the bottom of the sixth that sparked a six-run Duke rally and made the senior first baseman Duke’s new all-time home run leader. The bomb was Freiman’s 20th of the season and 43rd of his career, which moved him past former Duke slugger Ryan Jackson for the program’s all-time home run lead and made him just the second player in school history – the other being Jackson in 1994 – to hit 20 home runs in a season. Following Freiman’s homer, which cleared the Blue Monster in the left field power alley, Duke got a bunt single from Gould and an RBI triple from Lemmerman that increased the Blue Devil lead to 4-1 before a wild pitch from Dwyer sent Lemmerman across the plate. Dwyer then issued a walk to Piwnica-Worms before being pulled in favor of right-hander Clinton McKinney, who fared no better against the bottom of Duke’s lineup. McKinney retired the first hitter he saw, but then gave up a walk to Gabriel Saade, an RBI double to McCurdy and a two-run single to Hassan before ending the inning.
Clemson opened the top of the seventh with a hard-hit ball off the left field wall by Boyd, but had that potential rally killed immediately after Gould gunned down Boyd at second base from the warning track. Gould played the ball perfectly off the wall and fired a strike into second base where Saade gloved it and applied the tag to a sliding Boyd. Gould’s throw came in on a line and did not touch the ground, giving the junior left fielder his first outfield assist of the season.
Freiman and Lemmerman both missed their second home runs of the game by a few feet in the bottom of the seventh, but helped Duke scratch across two more runs anyway to go ahead 10-1. Freiman opened the inning with a hard-hit fly ball that hit two feet from the top of the Blue Monster in left-center field and then moved over to third on a single through the left side by Gould. Lemmerman then hammered another deep fly ball to left field that cleared the Blue Monster, but clanged off of the spectators’ leaning rail on top of the wall. Lemmerman’s ball was ruled a double, putting him a single short of the cycle through his first four at bats. Piwnica-Worms was able to squeak one more run out of the inning for the Blue Devils with a sacrifice fly ball to right field that ran Duke’s lead to 10-1.
Clemson finally got back into the game in the eight and plated three runs after failing to score any from the third through seventh innings. Wolcott sat down the first hitter he faced, but then gave up a single to Freeman that started a string of five consecutive Clemson batters that reached base. Wolcott sent one of those runners across the plate on his own after issuing a bases-loaded walk to Boyd with his 125th pitch of the game. That would be the final batter Wolcott faced, as Ness came into the game to inherit a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Ness powered a fastball past Nester to strike him out for the second out and then induced what should have been an inning-ending groundout from Miller. Miller hit a slow roller to third base that McCurdy charged and fielded, but dropped on the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand. The error allowed one more unearned run to score that cut Duke’s lead to 10-4 before Ness was able to roll another ground ball to Saade that ended the inning.
Ness stayed on in the ninth inning and worked around two Clemson singles – including a leadoff knock by Chris Epps – to close out the game. Ness struck out Mike Freeman for the first out, got Paulsen to fly out to center for the second out and then rolled a fielder’s choice ground ball from Parker to end the game.
Duke will conclude its play at the 2009 ACC Baseball Championship on Saturday, May 23, with an 8 p.m. contest against sixth-seeded Virginia.