CLEMSON—Clemson head baseball coach Monte Lee has preached it since his Tigers lost to Virginia four days ago to close out their two-game stint at the ACC Tournament—it’s a new season.
It’s a new season. A new day. A fresh start as soon as you find out that you have been named one of the 64 teams that get to continue playing in the NCAA Tournament. And it is that message that seems to be resonating with the Tiger baseball team.
“We’re super grateful and appreciative of the opportunity that we got. It’s a brand-new season,” Tiger first baseman Andrew Cox said. “There’s 295 teams in this country and we were fortunate enough to be one of the 64 that get to keep playing and continue our season.
“We couldn’t be more excited and thankful to start that new season, that new opening day, right here at Doug Kingsmore. So, we’re excited to get out to work today, and start our quest on trying to play some good baseball.”
The season began 58 games ago for the Tigers, 56 regular season games and two ACC Tournament games, and with every game that passed the Tiger baseball team’s goal got one step closer—the goal of having a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Now 58 games later that goal is a reality, but it has not come without its share of ups and downs. But for Cox, the downs that the Tigers have experienced recently are not what he is focusing on.
“I’m not concerned because we’ve done it on so many occasions this year. Fifty-six games is a long stretch of games, and it’s hard to play elite level baseball for 56 games,” Cox said. “Obviously that’s the goal when the season starts, but if you told me at the beginning of the season we would have 39 wins and we’re a host spot–there’s a lot of teams in this country that would sign up for that on the spot.
For Cox, it is the standard that has been set by the baseball program that earned the Tigers the chance to begin this leg of their postseason journey at home.
“I think that’s the standard of excellence that this university has,” Cox said. “Yeah, it’s a host spot. We could have been better no doubt, but at the same time we’re extremely fortunate and grateful for the opportunity that we have in front of us and I think we’ll have a great showing this weekend.”
But the fact the Tigers will begin their postseason at home may has not come without detractors.
According to D1Baseball.com’s Aaron Fitt, the Tigers being named a regional host site was their analysts “biggest objection to the field of 64.”
“Virginia was the much better team over the last six weeks of the season; Clemson’s late tailspin should have torpedoed its hosting chances,” Fitt wrote.
Joining Fitt in questioning the Tigers receiving a host site was the entire cast of ESPN’s selection show.
“This one surprised me. I thought it should have been Virginia, and I think it was fairly clear that it should have been Virginia the way that Clemson finished the season,” Kyle Peterson said. “They beat Clemson in the ACC Tournament, and beat them handily in the ACC Tournament.”
However, even with those naysayers speaking out against the Tigers, Cox was not surprised that the Tigers are opening play at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“I don’t know if I was surprised. I thought that we had a good body of work throughout the season, and we had a tough stretch down the last stretch–month of the season,” Cox said. “But I never stopped believing in myself. I never stopped believing in my teammates, and I never stopped believing in the finished product that this team has.”
With the media questioning not only should Clemson be hosting, but also if they will make it out of their regional, the Tigers are rallying around each other and echoing the statements of their head coach and preparing to begin a new season at home Friday night.
“All that talk and negativity, I don’t listen to it,” Cox said. “I don’t buy into it, because all it does is bring you down and make your day worse. I don’t care about those opinions. I don’t care about all the negativity that’s been placed on us. All I care about is my teammates, my coaches, myself and the people that have been riding in this seat with us from day one. That stuff doesn’t affect me.
“All I can focus on and control is how I lead this team and the product that we put out on the field with the new season starting this weekend.”
Focusing on beginning a new season and not on what happened the first 58 games of the year may be exactly what the Tigers need.
If history is any indication of a team’s ability to get hot at the right time and parlay that play into a magical run, one need not look any further into the history books that last season.
A No. 2 seed in the N.C. State regional went on a run and won their regional. Then that team went to LSU and won the Super Regional, and ultimately went on to win the College World Series. That little schools name– Coastal Carolina.
“It’s a new season. All of that stuff is out of the picture now,” Cox said. “Nothing that we can focus on or think about. All of our focus and energy is on playing the best baseball we can here at Doug Kingsmore.”