CLEMSON — The momentum built from a pair of midweek wins lasted all of one inning for Clemson.
Despite an early 3-0 lead, one bad inning against No. 7 Georgia Tech swung the tide, and the Tigers’ inability to produce clutch hits reemerged.
Clemson was unable to recover from Tech’s five-run third inning off No. 1 starter Chris Dwyer, as the Tigers dropped the first game of its weekend series 5-4 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Friday.
It was hardly the start the Tigers (28-15, 12-10 ACC) were hoping for against the Yellow Jackets. This is expected to be Clemson’s last series against a ranked opponent — and thus its final chance to boost its RPI in the quest to host an NCAA regional.
“We had our chances,” junior first baseman Ben Paulsen said. “But we couldn’t really get that damage control, and we should have scored a few more runs.”
Coming off Wednesday’s 12-2 rout of USC — as well as Tuesday’s game-winning grand slam against Coastal Carolina — the Tigers reverted to last weekend’s ways, stranding 11 baserunners and wasting numerous opportunities to rally.
They left runners in scoring position in seven of the first eight innings, including the eighth, when John Nester led off with a double.
After an Addison Johnson strikeout and a Jeff Schaus single, Mike Freeman fouled out to deep left to plate Nester on a sacrifice fly. But Paulsen flied out to center to leave Clemson one run short.
“We just had one bad inning,” coach Jack Leggett said. “We had a good first inning, then got silent there for a long time.”
The opener figured to be a pitcher’s duel between Dwyer — a freshman lefty projected to go among the first two rounds in the June draft — and Georgia Tech righty Deck McGuire, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who leads the league in strikeouts and ranked third in ERA.
But it never materialized, as Clemson took advantage of McGuire’s uncharacteristic wildness to build a quick 3-0 lead in the first.
A Schaus leadoff double and a pair of walks culminated in Brad Miller’s three-run double to the left-center gap with two out.
Georgia Tech (28-9-1, 14-5-1) responded with five runs in the third. Dwyer surrendered a leadoff triple, hit a batter, allowed an RBI single and a sac fly RBI before slugger Luke Murton ended his night with a three-run bomb to left field.
“Just one of those outings where you have good stuff, then next inning, they get some scrappy hits and stuff,” Dwyer said.
At 2Ð innings, it was the second-shortest outing among Dwyer’s 11 starts this season. He was removed after just 45 pitches.
“It just happened quick,” Leggett said. “You have to be able to shut it down. A team like Georgia Tech that’s explosive, if you give them a five-run inning, you put yourself in a tough situation.
“That was a tough way to lose the lead. Once we got the lead 3-0, I thought we were in pretty good shape.”
McGuire didn’t fare much better, matching his shortest start of the season when he was pulled after issuing seven walks and throwing 119 pitches through five innings.
Yet after giving up Miller three-run double, McGuire got of trouble when necessary.
The first inning ended when Nester grounded to short to strand runners on third and second.
Paulsen flew out to leave runners on the corners in the fourth, and Nester popped out to left in the fifth, leaving the tying runs on third and first.