CLEMSON—This is it.
The biggest series of the season is here, as the No. 7 Clemson Tigers (37-12, 16-8 ACC) welcome the, red-hot winners of 12 straight games, No. 2 Louisville Cardinals (43-6, 20-4 ACC) to Doug Kingsmore Stadium this weekend.
The Tigers’ have not fared well against the upper echelon of ACC team’s the last month, going 1-5, including a sweep at North Carolina, against the Tar Heels and the Florida State Seminoles in their two marquee match-ups.
However, with one more chance to impress the selection committee in hopes of earning one of the coveted top eight national seeds, the Tigers are not planning to do anything different this weekend than they have done in every game.
“The emphasis is on that every single game is important,” head coach Monte Lee said. “We don’t talk about big games or big series—I just don’t believe in that. I believe in that we play baseball the same way all the time.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in the other dugout. We don’t put more emphasis on Louisville than we do Furman. It’s important for us, if you want to be playing deep into the postseason at the end of the year, you have to understand that you have play good baseball all the time.”
The Tigers will have to play better than “good baseball” this weekend, as they face one of the hottest pitching staffs in the nation.
The Cardinals are No. 1 in the nation in shutouts, second in ERA, second in walks-hits-per-innings-pitched, third in hits allowed, 12th in strikeouts per 9 innings pitched and 13th in fielding percentage.
Louisville, since joining the conference in 2015, has amassed an incredible 25-3 record in ACC series’, has never lost an ACC series at home and is 27-1 in series finales.
But for Lee, it is not necessarily the Tigers ability to find hits and score runs that has been concerning—it has been the propensity for opponents to have a big inning against the Tigers.
“If you look over the last 10 games, we have to find a way to eliminate the big inning. That’s really it,” Lee said. “We’re swinging the bats pretty good. Starting pitching has been fine, but really the big thing that we have to do is we’ve got to find a way to eliminate that three spot somewhere—that four spot somewhere. That crooked number that has been popping up on the scoreboard over the last few games.”
Complete with a dominant pitching staff, the Cardinals have been swinging the bats this season.
Louisville enters this weekend ranked third in the ACC in batting average (.295), and Friday’s starting pitcher, Brendan McKay, who leads the ACC with 77 strikeouts, is currently batting .379 with 15 home runs (third in the ACC) and 46 RBIs—all meaning that the Tigers had better be ready to play defense if they want to have a chance to state their case for being a national seed.
“That’s going to be our big emphasis over the next couple of days, playing defense with conviction and just trying to be aggressive on defense,” Lee said. “We’ve got to be as aggressive as we are at the plate, as aggressive as we are on the mound—we’ve got to bring that same intensity on defense. That’s going to be the big key for us, if we play pretty good defense with our veteran, starting pitching then we give ourselves a chance against anybody in the country.”
The Tigers and the Cardinals open play Friday (6:30 p.m.), when Charlie Barnes will take the hill against Brendan McKay. Saturday (4:00 p.m.) the Tigers will send Alex Eubanks to the mound to take on Kade McClure and Sunday (noon) the Tigers will send Pat Krall to take on Nick Bennett.
The first two games of the series can be seen on ACC Network Extra, with Sunday’s series finale being televised on ESPN2.