CLEMSON, S.C. – Chris Epps led an 18-hit Clemson attack with three hits, including a solo home run, as the 16th-ranked Tigers took down Duke 16-7 on Saturday evening at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Epps was one of four Clemson players with at least three hits as the Tigers (9-7, 2-3 ACC) became the first team this season to score double-digit runs against Duke’s pitching staff. Jeff Schaus, Richie Shaffer and Jason Stolz also had three hits apiece for Clemson while second baseman Steve Wilkerson drew four walks.
The Tigers used two big innings – a five-run first and a seven-run fourth – to build an early lead and cruised to the win on the strength of a bullpen that held Duke to five hits over the final five innings of the game. Duke held a 6-5 lead midway through the fourth inning, but umpires halted play for 43 minutes due to lightning and the Tigers stormed back with a seven-run fourth after the break to reclaim the lead for good.
Duke junior Will Piwnica-Worms broke out with a 4-for-4, three-RBI performance in which he was a home run short of the cycle, and freshman outfielder Anthony D'Alessandro scored a career-high three runs in the first five innings. Freshman first baseman Chris Marconcini also gave Duke (15-6, 2-3 ACC) a spark with a solo home run that put the Blue Devils on top 6-5 in the fourth inning.
After the delay, the Tigers quickly erased the deficit by scoring seven runs on four hits in the bottom of the fourth. Six of those runs came off of Duke reliever Eric Pfisterer (1-1), who took over for starter Dennis O’Grady when play resumed. The stoppage also ended the day of Clemson starter David Haselden, who the Blue Devils scored six runs against over the first four innings. From there, Clemson used Kevin Pohle (1-0), Matt Campbell and Dominic Leone to hold the Blue Devils to one run over the final five innings.
Duke came out swinging and strung together three runs in the first inning on a pair of two-out hits – including a two-run double from Piwnica-Worms – to take a 3-0 lead. The Tigers were able to match that, however, and scored five runs on five hits in their first turn at the plate. Epps capped the rally with his solo home run down the left field line for his team-leading third long ball of the season.
O’Grady regained his form after the early Clemson rally and held the Tiger scoreless over his next two innings. The Duke offense rewarded him by tying the game on two Clemson errors in the top of the third and then reclaimed the lead on a two-out solo home run from Marconcini in the top of the fourth.
Umpires halted the game in the next half inning, however, after a bolt of lightning sparked the 43-minute delay. The stoppage was just long enough to end the day for both starters as both O’Grady and Haselden left after three-plus innings.
The change on the mound was just what the Tiger offense needed, however, as Clemson strung together a seven-run fourth inning after the break. Two of the runs were unearned as a dropped fly ball in the outfield prolonged the inning. Duke would get back one of those runs on an RBI triple from Piwnica-Worms in the top of the fifth, but still trailed by five runs at 12-7.
Piwnica-Worms’ RBI triple would be the final run Duke scored as the Blue Devils had just three hits the rest of the way. Clemson added three runs in the eighth to run the lead to nine before Leone closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning.
Game three of the series will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Duke will use right-hander Marcus Stroman (1-0, 0.64 ERA) opposite Clemson right-hander Scott Firth (0-0, 5.19 ERA)