LOUISVILLE—The Clemson Tigers (39-18, 17-14 ACC) hopes of being named one of the 16 teams to host a regional in the NCAA Tournament, beginning next week, are officially on life-support after dropping their first game of the ACC Tournament to Duke (6-3) Tuesday night.
The Tigers have dropped 10 of their last 11 ACC games, have plummeted from a projected No. 3 national seed to the No. 16 seed– and the last team to host a regional (according to D1Baseball.com’s projections)—and, in losing Tuesday’s contest, have lost any chance of making it further than Friday’s contest against the Virginia Cavaliers due to tie-break rules.
It is that game against 10th ranked Virginia that could make or break the Tigers’ hopes of hosting a regional for the second straight season.
“You know, it (the loss) hurts, but we’ve got another game on Friday, so got a couple days to let this one simmer, and should come out and try and play a good game on Friday,” first baseman Andrew Cox said. “That’s the only thing we control from this point forward is how our focus shifts to Friday and the game we play then.”
With the Tigers stumbling at the worst possible time, as postseason play is in full effect, there is an understanding that with the success they have had as a program and with the success that they have experienced as a team, now is the time when they will have to rely on each other more than ever.
“You know, I said it after the game on Friday at N.C. State, this ain’t going to be easy, nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” Cox continued. “It’s baseball. Just got to keep playing, got to play with a lead, play with a lot of energy and trust in each other that that guy will get the job done.”
The Tigers will now go back to the drawing board in preparation for their final game of the ACC Tournament Friday, after burning through their No. 1 and No. 2 starters—Charlie Barnes and Alex Eubanks—as well as their best two relievers in hopes of pulling out a victory against Duke.
But it was all for not, as the Tigers struggled with two costly errors and hitting with runners in scoring position.
“We tried everything we could,” head coach Monte Lee said. “We just dropped two balls, and it happened, so it was obviously tough luck on our part, but on the other side, we just couldn’t come up with a hit with runners on base and we had a couple opportunities and just couldn’t come up with a two-out hit with runners on base.”
The Tigers will have two days off before they face Virginia in their final game of the tournament, in a game that could go a long way to determining where the Tigers will begin their NCAA Tournament journey next week.
But for the Tigers, as big as the game on Friday is, they are trying to treat it as just another game.
“It’s big. Tonight was big,” Cox said. “We don’t treat any game differently just because that’s the last game of the tournament or today is the first game of the tournament. We’ve got to look at it the same way we approach every game—as if that game is the biggest game of the year.
“So, we’ve got to be ready to play against a really, really good Virginia club and I’m confident that our guys will respond in a positive way and be ready to play on Friday.”