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McKenzie Clark started Sunday afternoon with a double. Shortly after she reached second, catcher Geana Torres made her way out to the mound to talk with starter Kaia Oliver. Then, Oliver walked Ansley Gilstrap, and pitching coach Michael Steuerwald stopped play again to talk with Oliver and Torres. Neither conversation helped, though. Two batters later, freshman Alia Logoleo hit her fifth home run of the season, quickly sending Syracuse into a 4-0 deficit before it got a chance to bat.
“Sundays have been rough for us just trying to figure out what we’re going to do on the mound,” head coach Shannon Doepking said.
Syracuse entered its final game against No. 13 Clemson knowing it solidified its position as either a No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament following Saturday’s walk-off win. Because of this, Doepking didn’t want the Tigers — whom SU could play in round two of the tournament — to see more of Alexa Romero. She opted for Oliver but said the coaching staff didn’t want any one pitcher to pitch for too long.
The Orange (20-23, 12-20 ACC) ended their regular season by tying their season-high in walks and hitting two batters. Clemson (40-5, 29-5) hitters capitalized on those six free passes by totaling 19 runs — the third-most allowed in program history — and accumulating the most hits SU has allowed all year.
The Tigers clinched the ACC regular season title in their second year with their 40th win. After Neli Casares-Maher flew out to first base to end the game, Clemson stormed the field and formed a dog pile next to the pitching circle. Syracuse and its nine seniors calmly walked off the field. Lailoni Mayfield held her helmet in her hands as she put her head down and slowly made her way to the dugout. At one point after the game, she cried with parents.
Oliver walked Grace Mattimore on four straight pitches to start the second inning. After two consecutive hits, the bases were loaded for a bloop single, extending the lead to five. Two batters later, Oliver allowed a bases-loaded walk to Marissa Guimbarda.
“I actually looked at (Steuerwald) after the second walk, and that’s when we should’ve made the decision to go to Lindsey (Hendrix),” Doepking said. “Instead, the big blow came, and it went over the fence.”
After Oliver allowed the home run, Doepking pulled the sophomore and brought in Hendrix after she retired just one batter. Over 1 1/3 innings, Hendrix allowed seven runs and six hits. Doepking again knew Clemson had seen too much of the freshman, and she put in Miranda Hearn for just her third appearance of the season. Hearn pitched for 2 2/3 innings — the longest outing for any Orange pitcher on Sunday.
In the fifth inning, with Clemson up 17-2, Jolie Gustave allowed a ground ball single to her first batter faced. She immediately walked Clark to load the bases. Gilstrap flew out to the warning track in right field, but Kyah Keller tagged up from third base, placing the Orange down 18-2.
Each pitcher walked at least one batter and allowed at least two runs, and all but two Clemson starters recorded a hit. The Tigers lead the ACC in hits, are second in team batting average and first in runs scored. On Sunday, the conference’s top team scored early and was up 11-0 after just the second inning. It’s hard for Syracuse to have a chance against when it lets Clemson score so quickly, the Orange’s third-year head coach said.
“Unfortunately there was nothing we could do about it because the damage happened regularly early,” Doepking said.
Doepking knew going into the series that the margin of error was thin. Prior to this weekend’s four-game set, the Orange had been swept by Virginia Tech and were 0-12 against teams in the top 25. While SU held Clemson close in two losses, eventually eking out a win in game two on Saturday, Doepking knew Syracuse’s trend of walking batters and missing pitch locations would lead to a third loss to the Tigers.
“All the walks (are) something that we got to get better at if we want a chance at doing something this program hasn’t done,” Doepking said. “Which is winning a game in the ACC Tournament and trying to make a run at this.”
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