Demon Deacons Break Clemson’s Heart

CLEMSON, S.C. — Wake Forest’s Justin Johnson singled to left field with one out in the top of the ninth inning to plate the eventual game-winning run in a 4-3 victory over Clemson Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Johnson’s game-winning hit scored Brock Wilken, who was hit by Clemson pitcher Jackson Lindley to start the ninth.

The Tigers had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, as Jacob Jarrell and Cam Cannarella each singled and eventually moved into scoring position with two outs. After Cannarella stole second base, it appeared Wake closer Cam Minacci made a mistake when he came off the rubber and attempted to throw over to first base, which was empty.

The 4,365 Clemson fans, and the Clemson dugout, screamed for a balk. Home plate umpire Brian Miller had to explain his call to Clemson head coach Erik Bakich. Two pitches later, Cooper Ingle grounded out to second to end the game.

“Everyone in the park was screaming ‘Balk,’ but the umpire actually had it right,” Bakich said. “He stepped off and he did not throw. If he would have thrown, then it would have been a balk because the base was unoccupied. He did not throw, and he stepped off.

“You can disengage from the rubber and step off. That is no big deal. I think because he raised his arm it caused everyone, myself included, to question it for a second because you did not expect that to happen. That was the right call. There was no balk there.”

Lindley suffered the loss, while Seth Keener earned the win. Minacci earned the save for the second-ranked Demon Deacons.

Despite the loss, the story of the night was the performance of Clemson reliever Nick Clayton. The righty tied a career-high with eight strikeouts while walking one. He allowed just one run off three hits in 4 2/3 innings of work, also matching a career-high.

“He was awesome,” Bakich said. “His role, that is a perfect example of a pitcher that could pitch in literally any role. He could be a starter, he could be a long reliever. He could be a short reliever, he could be a high-leverage reliever, he could be a closer. There is nothing that he can’t do. He has been in all of those situations this year so far.”

Down 1-0 at the time, Clayton came on for starter Joe Allen in the second inning after the freshman loaded the bases with one out thanks to a double and two walks. But Clayton struck out two of Wake Forest’s best hitters in Lucas Costello and Nick Kurtz to end the threat.

“He has incredible metrics and movement of his fastball. He is very good,” Bakich said.

Wake Forest (24-3, 9-2 ACC) did extend its lead to 2-0 in the top of the fourth when Castello singled through the left side with two outs to score Gio Cueto from second. But that was the only damage they made on the junior, as he sat down seven of the last eight batters he faced.

With Clayton controlling things on the mound, Clemson loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fourth for Riley Bertram. The second baseman picked up two of his teammates with a single to centerfield, scoring Cooper Ingle and Caden Grice.

Bertram’s hit tied the game, but the graduate transfer was thrown out while attempting to stretch the play to second base.

The Tigers (16-12, 2-6 ACC) grabbed their first lead of the series in the bottom of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly to centerfield from Blake Wright. They loaded the bases with no outs on Wake starter Sean Sullivan, as Ingle was hit by a pitch, Will Taylor doubled to left field and Grice was hit by a pitch.

Wright’s sac fly scored Ingle for a 3-2 lead.

Sean Sullivan had a 1.76 ERA prior to Friday’s game.

Lucas Castello blasted a solo shot to left centerfield in the top of the first inning to score Wake’s first run.

Stat of the Game: Clayton’s eight strikeouts were the most he had in one outing since he struck out eight Georgia Tech batters in Atlanta on May 9 of 2021.

Player of the Game: Relief pitcher Nick Clayton. The righty tied a career-high with eight strikeouts while walking one. He allowed just one run off three hits in 4 2/3 innings of work, also matching a career-high in innings pitched.

Injury update: Bakich said pitchers Casey Talent (upper body), Billy Barlow (undisclosed) and Ryan Ammons (arm) are close to coming back. They are optimistic Ammons could return against Florida State next week and Talent and Barlow are hopeful for the Notre Dame series.  

Key Moment: Down 3-2, Wake’s Gio Cueto doubled to start the eighth inning. After moving to third base following a Marek Houston grounder, Lucas Costello laid down a perfect bunt on the first base side, easily scoring Cueto on a perfect safety squeeze play. The Demon Deacons brought home the winning run in the top of the ninth inning on a Johnson single.

“We knew that was in their bag of tricks,” Bakich said. “They sometimes safety with the drag bunt, which is a little unorthodox when you go to the first base side.”

Up Next: Clemson and Wake Forest will play the third and final game of their series Saturday at 2 p.m.Want to join in on the discussion? 100% FREE! Interact with fellow Tiger fans and hear directly from publisher Zach Lentz, deputy editor Brad Senkiw, recruiting analyst Jason Priester and staff writer Will Vandervort on any subject. Click here to become a member of the ALL CLEMSON message board community today!
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